Farmers in the Oakdale Irrigation District will receive an additional four inches of surface irrigation after a season where allocations were changed more than once.
An Aug. 4 decision by the OID board boosts surface deliveries to 44 inches for Ag customers. It is the third time since initially setting a first-ever 30-inch allotment in April that directors increased allocations based on supply.
A couple of late-spring storms provided more runoff into reservoirs than expected, but much of the credit was directed at OID’s 2,900 growers for their aggressive conservation efforts. General Manager Steve Knell said total water use is tracking at 10 percent less than 2014.
“It’s a complete anomaly,” Knell said. “Back in June, we allocated everything we had; the assumption being that everyone would irrigate like last year.”
A staff report shows that OID’s remaining share of water in New Melones and Tulloch reservoirs is 94,200 acre-feet. Last year in August and September, OID farmers used 58,900 acre-feet. Knell said the additional 4 inches amounts to about 22,700 acre-feet and still leaves open the possibility of a final irrigation in October. A decision on that isn’t expected until September.
Knell said water runoff from farms is down 42 percent from last year’s levels, another sign growers have dramatically improved their irrigation efficiency. In July, the district also began to “throttle back” on groundwater pumping from its deep wells, further reducing pressure on local aquifers.
District conservation efforts, coupled with those of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, are reflected in better-than-expected storage estimates for New Melones Reservoir, which is nearing historic lows.
How much will remain?
In April, California’s fourth-largest reservoir was predicted to be down to 147,000 acre-feet by the end of irrigation season. Now, forecasts show New Melones with about 259,000 acre-feet at the end of September. That still would represent only about 10 percent of its capacity.
The good news for OID farmers was tempered by the uncertainty of whether the drought will continue and what that might mean for irrigation deliveries in 2016.
Knell said many people have heard about the possibility of a powerful El Nino weather pattern forming in the Pacific Ocean, which typically means more rain for California.
“Southern California is preparing for a wet winter, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in our part of the state,” he said. “We always have to plan for less than optimal and try to meet those standards.”
In other action, the board heard a report about a possible on-farm conservation program in 2016. More than 120 OID growers expressed interest in the program earlier this year, but it was delayed after concerns were raised about the lack of an environmental review.
Under the program, farmers who voluntarily idle their land for one season would receive a portion of the value of the water saved. The money would be used to pay for irrigation efficiency projects on their property.
Part of the water would be sold to willing buyers and some would be conserved in New Melones.
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Knell said a potential snag in the plan is the state Department of Water Resources’ opposition to including land devoted to pasture or alfalfa because the state believes they use too much water. Almost 30,000 of OID’s 62,000 irrigated acres are devoted to pasture, Knell said.