While farmers elsewhere in California are having their irrigation deliveries curtailed, those in the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) will see more liquid manna in their canals this summer.
Directors of the Central California irrigation district voted unanimously in early June to raise this year’s allocation to 40 inches, up from the 36 inches they opted to give farmers and ranchers just weeks earlier.
The news means that most growers in the district will have over three acre feet of water for crops and rangeland. “Tier 2” customers will still receive 10 inches of surface water.
District General Manager Steve Knell said small storms in April and May provided an unexpected bonus: enough water to keep soil moisture high in the valley, plus additional runoff into Sierra reservoirs. He told directors that 2.8 inches of rain fell above Donnells and Beardsley lakes, which had plenty of room to capture the water.
He said the rain comes on top of positive efforts by OID’s 2,900 agricultural customers to use less water. The combination has the district able to easily meet its goal of pushing at least 10,000 acre-feet of “saved” water into New Melones Reservoir. OID is on target to conserve about 17,000 acre-feet, Knell said.
The 40 inches OID’s irrigators will receive compares to 36 inches for those in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and is more than double what farmers in the Modesto and Turlock districts will get this summer.
“Forty inches is an abundance of water,” said Brian Lemons, who grows almonds and walnuts.
Still, the implications of the drought were on the minds of OID’s staff and board.
Knell said the district is discussing various 2016 water scenarios with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages New Melones Reservoir. Director Frank Clark warned about the financial implications of the drought on the district, which has dug into its reserves to use $17 million to balance its budget the past two years.
“If these dry years continue and you have no income from hydro production and you have no excess water to sell and you keep drawing down from reserves, it looks bleak,” Clark said. “We could be looking at raising irrigation rates.”