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SSJID water gives almond growers edge
Manteca and Ripon almond growers are in a position to bring a full crop of almonds to market this year. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Call it a silver lining.

Almond farmers in Ripon, Manteca, and Escalon are in a position to be the only California growers that could bring a full crop to market this year.

Thanks to a tenacious 105-year commitment of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to protect water rights, develop water resources including clean hydro power, and aggressively pursuing conservation measures the SSJID is the only district in the state that is making a commitment to deliver 100 percent of the water growers need to bring a full almond crop to market.

 SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields confirmed Monday that the district is in a position to deliver 100 percent of the water growers need. It is thanks to water conservation, closing Woodward Reservoir to recreation uses, long range water policy, and recent precipitation that allowed the district to postpone the start of the irrigation season until mid-March.

The early March storms have done little to change the water outlook on the Stanislaus River watershed or elsewhere in California. But it was enough to allow the SSJID to postpone irrigation deliveries to assure there will be adequate water to meet needs in August and September. In doing so, it will need to access 79,000 acre feet of carryover water in its conservation  account  at New Melones Reservoir but won’t need to deplete it leaving a cushion for 2015.

The SSJID board meets today to decide when to set the start date for irrigation deliveries. The meeting is at 9 a.m. in the district office, 11011 East Highway 120, Manteca.

It takes 30 inches of water during a growing season to deliver a healthy almond crop.  Under water management strategies now in place, the SSJID plans to make full water deliveries to farmers as well as provide the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy with about the same amount of water they used last year. All three cities, though, have seen a spike in use since then due to growth.

By contrast other area water purveyors have told their almond growers they will only receive:

•  six inches in the Merced Irrigation District.

•  18 inches in the Modesto Irrigation District.

•  20 inches in the Turlock Irrigation District.

At the same time the State Water Project has said it will not deliver water for the first time ever to a million acres of farmland as well as to urban districts serving 25 million people. The Central Valley Water project operated by the federal government also indicated it will not be delivering contracted water to farmers.

That has prompted almond growers who depend on state and federal water to abandon other crops and even remove some older orchards nearing the end of their production in a bid to have enough water to keep the high value trees alive.

California produces 84 percent of the world’s almonds and almost 99 percent of all commercially grown almonds in the United States.


Almonds are state’ stop farm export

The 2.037 billion pounds of almonds makes it California’s fourth largest crop after hay, wheat and grapes. Almonds are the No.1 California export crop with overseas shipping valued at $2.828 billion. Almonds easily exceeding wine products in the No.2 spot at $1.251 billion based on statistics provided by the United States Department of Commerce.

The overall annual crop in California is valued at $4.3 billion. Of the 2 billion pounds produced, 138,000 million pounds came from San Joaquin County and primarily from the orchards irrigated with SSJID water. Almonds pumped $300.4 million into the South County economy in 2012 based on the county agricultural commissioner’s report.

Almonds are the biggest irrigated crop in the SSJID service territory with 33,000 acres followed by alfalfa at 6,000, grapes at 6,000, pasture at 5,200, walnuts at 2,400 and peaches at 1,800. The rest is split between a diversity of crops ranging from corn to melons.

The district’s ability to deliver a normal amount of water needed to produce crops works to the advantage of other growers as well.

California produces half of the vegetables and fruit in the United States. While other areas will have substantial cutbacks in production due to the drought this year, SSJID growers are in a position to bring full crops to market.