After five years of severe drought conditions, the Tuolumne River Watershed is in the midst of one of the wettest years on record. What this means for local growers is plenty of water this irrigation season, which Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors voted last week to begin tomorrow.
Since the Tuolumne River Watershed has received 189 percent of average precipitation to date, TID is able to provide 48 inches of water per acre for the 2017 irrigation season. The District will also make available replenishment water for those customers who need more within TID's boundaries.
"We are going to encourage customers to flood irrigate," said Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian. "We understand that the last four years during the drought a number of you have put drip and micros, but we're going to do what we can to advise people to maybe flood a little more often than they have in the past to help recharge our groundwater."
Despite this request from Kavarian, a Ceres grower who attended TID's Board meeting on Tuesday, March 21, relayed concerns from the farming community in regards to the normal water year rates, which was approved in 2015. Under this schedule, customers are charged $2 per acre-foot for the first 24 inches, $3 per acre-foot for the next 24 inches, $15 per acre-foot for the next 12 inches, and $20 per acre-foot for anything above that.
"Almond crop out there - from what I'm seeing - looks horrendous on the early varieties, so farmers are going to be watching this dollar stuff more and more," he said. "My recommendation is maybe back off the prices a little bit this year if you want to encourage these guys to put more water on the ground by flooding instead of using micros, because some of these guys are going to stay with micros, I guarantee it."
The irrigation season will start on March 30 and end on Nov. 1, however, Kavarian has the authority to adjust the start and end dates as necessary. Customers can begin ordering water through the call center at 7 a.m. on March 29.
Looking at the upcoming forecast, which calls for seventh-tenths of an inch over the next five days, Director Michael Frantz asked Kavarian if it would be possible to move the start of the season to Tuesday or Wednesday of next week provide assistance to customers sooner.
"We would go next Thursday at the earliest in my own opinion. I don't think we're going to need it any sooner than that," said Kavarian. "We could also move it to April 6 if that's the wish of the Board. I'd still think we would be okay, but if not we can move things quicker if we have to. I can adjust the season as we see fit regarding the weather."
Following action to set the 2017 irrigation season, the Board also voted to make replenishment water available for sale to areas outside TID's service area that are within the Turlock groundwater subbasin. Water will be priced at $20 per acre-foot.
"Last time we provided this water was in 2011, but because we are at 186 percent of normal we felt it was appropriate to provide replenishment water for them also," said Kavarian.
During his weekly water report on Tuesday, which covered March 13 through March 19, Utility Analyst Jason Carkeet said that the Tuolumne River Watershed has received 1.06 inches to date for the month of March. The historical average for the month is 5.37 inches.
With the latest numbers from this month, the yearly total for the Tuolumne River Watershed is 53.05 inches, which is 186.3 percent for the period between September and March.
So far this precipitation year, five months have surpassed their historical averages. In October, the Tuolumne River Watershed received 5.96 inches of precipitation, which was 4 inches more than the historical average. December surpassed its historical average of 5.94 inches as well with 7.62 inches. In January, the region received more than 20 inches of precipitation, which marked a new record high for the month. The record-setting month was followed by February, which received 15.34 inches of rain - nearly 10 inches more than its historical average of 5.99 inches.