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Demand for irrigation water spikes as the season draws to end
TID water canal
TID received just over 48,000 orders for water during the 2022 Irrigation Season, which ran March 28 to Oct. 12. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Drought and high-demand mark the end of the 2021-22 irrigation season. The water year officially ended on Sept. 30 and with it Turlock Irrigation District’s irrigation season on Oct. 12.

“No surprise, but the 2021-22 water year was once again dry with approximately 1.13 million acre-feet of runoff coming from the Tuolumne River Watershed – approximately 59 percent of average,” said TID communication specialist Brandon McMillan. 

McMillan added that during the 2021-22 precipitation year, which ran Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, the Tuolumne River Watershed received 23.97 inches of precipitation – approximately 65 percent of average.

During the Oct. 11 TID Board meeting, Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian discussed a familiar theme. He acknowledged the fact that the number of water releases saw a sharp increase in the weeks leading up to the final day of the season. At the beginning of the month, water was being released at around 590 cubic feet per second (CFS). By Oct. 11, water was being released at approximately 1,755 CFS. These are the highest numbers TID has seen in the past 15 years.

“[Increased water releases] is a pattern we’ve always seen in the last two weeks or 10 days of the season, but that’s a summertime number that we see,” noted Kavarian.

He went on to show that water orders have also experienced extreme levels in the final weeks of the irrigation year. During the week of Oct. 3, 2,790 orders placed were placed.

“This is the most orders we’ve had over the last week in a number of years,” Kavarian said. “We were anticipating some flows, but we weren’t anticipating these kinds of flows.” 

The final numbers shared by McMillan reveal that TID received just over 48,000 orders for water during the 2022 irrigation season from March 28 to Oct. 12. The Board of Directors had made 27 inches of water available to growers.

A cooler couple of months and a few days of rain made little difference when it comes to drought conditions, though. According to the United States Drought Monitor, most of the Central Valley and much of Stanislaus County continues to experience “exceptional drought,” which is the highest intensity level on the scale.

Kavarian explained that on Oct. 9 there were 1,300 parcels without water while the remaining 3,500 still had some left. He is confident that anybody who was eligible to order more water was able to do so as long as they met TID’s deadline.

“Again, it’s one of the reasons why we’re running so much water because everybody wants that last drop,” he said.

With no reason to believe that the statewide drought will end anytime soon, 2022 saw the implementation of the Drought Transfer Pilot Program (DTPP), which allows growers to transfer some of their available water to other growers during the irrigation season. According to McMillan, 107 customers used the DTPP in the first season of the pilot program.