South County farmers and city residents in Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy have a cushion against a dry year in 2013.
And at the same time local air quality has been improved slightly.
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District - through a series of state -of-the-art water conservation programs - has been able to squirrel away 70,353 acre feet of water in its conservation account with the Bureau of Reclamation at New Melones Reservoir. That is equal to almost half of the 150,000 acre feet of water the SSJID is assured of each year from Stanislaus River run-off to provide irrigation water to 60,000 acres surrounding Manteca, Escalon and Ripon as well as domestic water supplies to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.
SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields noted that the $14 million Division 9 project that replaced open canals with buried pipelines to allow for a pressurized delivery system to accommodate drip irrigation saved almost 3,000 acre feet of water this past spring and summer even though more farmers are taking SSJID water.
Not only has it reduced water waste and evaporation but it has eliminated the need for many farmers to run ground water pumps that burn diesel or use electricity.
Division 9 is west of Ripon and south of Manteca. It was selected for the water conservation system that farmers manage using iPads due to it being at the end of the system as well as having a salinity problem with ground water. Reducing pumping of ground water is expected to help start reversing the salinity problem.
Irrigation with water with too high of a salinity content can ultimately kill crops and render soil sterile.
Shields said the board is looking at using Tri-Dam Project proceeds to put other divisions under drip irrigation. Not only does the system reduce water use but it also cuts costs to growers.
Shields noted that in the district east of Escalon that the drip system approach isn’t likely to be considered while crops in the area such as alfalfa do better with flood irrigation. Drop irrigation works best for orchards and vineyards. He did note as crops shift it would make the area a candidate for the pressurized drip system.
The district is also getting ready to start the third year of a water conservation management program where they work with farmers to make financial improvements to water delivery systems at individual farms.
This year’s irrigation season ends Thursday.