The Stanislaus River watershed that feeds the Tri-Dam Project that stores water for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District is well ahead of last year’s precipitation in terms of snowfall.
SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk, though, cautioned Ripon Rotarians during a talk Wednesday at Spring Creek Country Club that the drought is far from over.
Reitkerk was hired in late August to replace Jeff Shields after he served in a similar position with the Patterson Irrigation District.
There has been 25 inches of snow on the Tri-Dam watershed so far this year compared to just four inches last year. That will translate into 780,000 acre feet of inflow anticipated – twice the amount of the previous 12 months.
The Tri-Dam Project is a joint venture of SSJID and the Oakdale Irrigation District in a long standing partnership. Together they developed, operate and maintain the Donnells, Beardsley and Tulloch projects including the dams, tunnels, penstocks, powerhouses, communication systems and general offices. The three dams are located on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River in Tuolumne County.
The SSJID chief said the irrigation district has to deal with a number of state and federal issues connected with water flow including the Endangered Species Act which includes the protection of the salmon in the rivers and the government’s scheduled water releases.
As far as the New Melones Reservoir, Rietkerk said, “what we are seeing is a puddle.”
He further noted that the 2012 California Water Fix legislation allowed for a 35 percent unimpaired flow of river water with the 2014 Ground Water Management Act (SGMA) set to determine what is sustainable.
The reportedly protects existing surface water and groundwater rights and does not impact current drought response measures. It includes management of supplies by regional authorities such as SSJID with a limited role for state intervention, only if necessary to protect the resource. It is considered as one part of a statewide, comprehensive water plan for California that includes water conservation, water recycling, expanded water storage, safe drinking water, wetlands and watershed restoration.
Rietkerk said the district has already been providing drinking water to Manteca with plans to expand its service in the future to Escalon and Ripon.
The SSJID general manager countered recent state claims that the largest percentage of water is being used for agriculture, saying “a big chunk is being released to protect the environment.” Forty percent is going to agriculture in his pie chart with only 10 percent going to the cities and 50 percent of available water going to environmental uses.
Rietkerk also spoke of the Eastern San Joaquin County Groundwater Basin Authority (GBA) that has been working in collaboration to develop sustainable water supplies. The GBA is a consensus based joint powers authority (JPA) working on behalf of its water partners with one voice strength in water management, making the Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Basin a basin in recovery.
Some $700 million has been spent by the member agencies to implement a variety of water projects. Farmers and urban residents have notably become increasingly efficient at using water and now use some 25 percent less water than in past decades.