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We are all Californians when it comes to saving water
Afternoon showers caught these bicyclists off guard as they rode down the Tidewater Bikeway under a canopy of pink almond blossoms. Showers are expected to continue on and off through Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
South County farmers and cities served by South San Joaquin Irrigation District don’t have to worry about whether they will have water to grow crops and keep lawns green.
The March 1 snowpack survey report on the Stanislaus River watershed that supplies SSJID water may meet 88 percent of SSJID’s normal supply.
“We’re in good shape but that’s relative to the rest of California,” SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said Monday.
Even so, SSJID is moving forward with plans to keep a tight handle on water releases into canals as well as working with farmers and cities alike.
“We’re all Californians and we’re in this together,” Shields said reflecting the sentiment of the SSJID board.
That means the district is moving ahead with plans to conserve as much water as possible without hurting farm and urban users in the district.
Shields noted whatever water SSJID is able to save may end up helping people keep farm jobs elsewhere, keep water flowing in taps in hard hit areas or help maintain critical Delta ecology.
The Department of Water Resources’ reported the average snowpack on March 1 in California was hovering at 80 percent in many places. That, however, is far from what is needed to snap the back of two consecutive years of drought.  A snowpack that’s 120 percent of normal – considered virtually impossible at this late point in the season – would allow the state to skirt serious water delivery cutbacks in the next 10 months.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency Thursday as California is heading into its third straight year of drought. Such a declaration will make it easier to shift water around the state. He also called on all Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent.
The SSJID was notified Monday by the Bureau of Reclamation that the forecast now calls for 528,935 acre feet of inflow into New Melones during the spring run-off. Under the contract that allowed the federal government to replace the Melones Dam operated by Oakdale irrigation District in conjunction with SSJID with a much larger reservoir, the two districts’ original water rights are protected. That means the two districts get a combined 600,000 acre feet of water before any Bureau contract user does.
New Melones is now 50 percent filled with 1,211,000 acre feet of water. The reservoir holds 2,419,000 acre feet.
Shields said unlike many other water districts, SSJID will be able to deliver water to bring crops to market – including row crops – and not just simply keep orchards and vineyards alive for a future growing season.
He also said the district is most likely to help its neighbors who in turn can take pressure off water elsewhere. One example is Tracy which already is using its full allocation of treated water from the South County Surface Water Treatment Plant.  Tracy is an out-of-district user. If Tracy switches to more SSJID water, it takes pressure off a limited Central Valley Water Project Supply. Tracy gets half their water from the federal water project and 27 percent from SSJID with the balance coming from well water. A shift would free up Tracy’s federal water allocation for other struggling cities elsewhere in the state.
The State Water project – which has Oroville Dam as its biggest reservoir – is only delivering 15 percent of its allotments to agricultural users in the coming months. The Bureau of Reclamation that operates Shasta Dam as the main reservoir of the Central Valley Water Project has indicated it will deliver no water to farm users until further notice.
“We don’t live on an island,” said Shields of the 72,000-acre SSJID that serves Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon plus surrounding farmland. “We have to do whatever we can to help the rest of the state. We can’t afford to waste water.”
Shields said the district realizes it has the opportunity to decide how it can help others on its own terms by acting now and not later.