While previous years have left many local growers high and dry with historically-low water cap allotments ranging from 18 to 20 inches, they received good news on Tuesday evening, Feb. 16 as the Turlock Irrigation District announced that current water conditions may make it possible to implement a 36-inch water allocation in the 2016 irrigation season.
"Unless things significantly change one way or another, what I plan to do is come to the Board on March 15 to set the irrigation season for 2016," said Tou Her, TID's assistant general manager of water resources. "At this time, we anticipate the irrigation season to start around the first week of April to mid October."
This is a more generous change from the 2015 irrigation season, which saw a disheartening 18-inch cap water allotment with no carryover in the Don Pedro Reservoir, and the 2014 irrigation season, which brought with it a 20-inch water allotment.
"This information is very preliminary and so we will make adjustments as necessary," said Her. "If water conditions improve and we have the average scenario or wet conditions, the amount of water available can increase from the 36 inches and vice versa."
Her said that with 36 inches of surface water being available potentially for the 2016 irrigation season, TID would resume normal operations like they have done in the past several years before the drought. This would mean that the District would return to adhering to the normal year water rate schedule, which encompasses a fixed charge of $60 per acre.
TID also has plans to not offer the pumping-for-credit program this year, which was a decision that received some pushback from at least one grower, who said that not all irrigators, especially those on sandy ground, can make it on 36 inches.
"We believe that 36 inches should be sufficient for people," said Her. "Historical practices have shown that that has been sufficient for everybody on top of what we rent from customers, which provides an additional 12 inches. That is about 48 inches available for our customers and that has been sufficient."
So far in February, the Tuolumne River Watershed has experienced 0.29 of an inch of precipitation, which is significantly below the historical average amount of 6.04 inches. Her said that TID forecasts approximately two inches of rainfall before the end of month; however, that will still mean February will come in at below average in terms of rainfall.
January marked the fourth consecutive month that actual rainfall amounts have exceeded their monthly historical averages since the precipitation year started in September. Data up until Feb. 15 showed that the Tuolumne River Watershed has experienced 26.42 inches of rainfall, which is 119.8 percent of average for this date.
"Over the last couple of months, we've been quite blessed with above-average precipitation," said Her. "As of today, we have 26.42 inches. When we had this same grower meeting last year at this time, we had 13.5 inches and in the prior year, 2014, we had about 9 inches.
"So you can see we've dramatically improved in hydrology. Mother Nature has certainly dealt us a pretty good card so far," continued Her.