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Recent rains won't stave off very dry year
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Recent rain has helped irrigation forecasts, the Turlock Irrigation District said last week, but isn't nearly enough to counteract the historically dry winter.

In the past week, 3.8 inches of precipitation fell in the TID watershed. But that rainfall has brought the season total to just 16.58 inches - 57.5 percent of average for this date.

Because of the dry season, the most recent rainfall only translates to about 100,000 acre-feet of irrigation water. In a regular season it would account for closer to 200,000 acre-feet, but water-starved natural vegetation in the watershed will absorb much of the water before it can reach TID reservoirs.

This last series of storms have all but ensured this will not be the driest water year on record. But 2012 is on track to be in the lowest five water years.

Even with wet conditions going forward, TID projects a "considerably less than average" water year. Considerably more rainfall would be needed to increase irrigation allotments - set at 24 acre-inches, with a 30 acre-inch cap - as even the district's modest allotment will see TID carryover less water to 2013 than it would like to.

A further two inches of rainfall are projected this week, but torrential rains are needed to salvage the water year.

"So two more of those storms would be looking nice, huh?" asked TID Director Joe Alamo.

"I'd like four," said Wes Monier, TID Strategic Issues and Planning Department Manager.

Irrigation off to strong start

The TID irrigation season opened March 8, with farmers inundating TID call center to place water orders.

More than 700 orders were placed that first day, with 254 orders on March 9. With four people answering phones, farmers still faced 20 to 25 minute wait times.

Ordering will become easier in the next months, as an online water-ordering system will launch to supplement the existing call center. District staff said growers should expect a postcard announcing when the online ordering system is activated.

Over 23,000 acres ordered water, according to Mike Kavarian, TID Water Distribution Department manager. About half of those acres were filled with forage crops.

TID has signed up 85 private water pumps to help meet demand, given the limited water in Don Pedro Reservoir, and looks to sign up a total of 120 to 125 pumps.

Orders dropped off sharply as last week's storms hit, with fewer than 30 orders placed in the remainder of the week.

TID Power Plant construction finished

Major construction finished on the TID's new Almond 2 Power Plant just outside Ceres on March 20.

The plant is now mechanically complete, with mainly cosmetic work left. Testing and commissioning the new plant will take six to ten weeks, with the facility set to enter service on April 25.

The $485 million state-of-the-art, natural-gas fired, simple-cycle peaking power generation facility is located next to the existing Almond Power Plant. The 174-megawatt plant is the first to use a new turbine from General Electric, able to be started in 15 minutes to meet changing electricity needs; Almond takes an hour and a half to start.

The power plant was completed on time, and on budget, per TID.