With declining surface water allocations and rising costs, Merced County’s new irrigation season reflects the impacts of the statewide drought.
Merced County is not alone. The nearby Fresno Irrigation District (FID) announced on Tuesday that ongoing dry weather, including record-breaking January and February, has led the board to postpone the scheduled start of water deliveries. .
The decision came after the council reviewed the latest runoff forecasts and opted to retain the district’s available water supply, according to an FID press release.
As a result, no agricultural water deliveries will be offered by FID in March or April. Additionally, no official decision will be made on when this year’s water deliveries will begin until early April.
While producers served by the Merced Irrigation District are expected to receive water deliveries as scheduled, these deliveries will be shorter and at a higher cost than in previous years.
The MID announced earlier this month that the surface water allowance for the 2022 season will be 1.1 acre-feet per acre for growers in the district. The price was set at $100 per acre-foot.
This compares to rates for the previous two seasons of $50 per acre-foot. The 2019 and 2020 irrigation seasons have been approved with no restrictions on surface water allocations. Before approving this year’s limited allocation, MID officials described it as a “difficult decision” triggered by the still dry skies.
The rise in rates is due to bond issues and MID policies to maintain financial reserves as a buffer against the impacts of several dry years, MID spokesman Mike Jensen told the Sun-Star.
Most of the state, including Merced County, is experiencing severe drought conditions. “We haven’t had the snow and water we needed in the Sierras this year,” Jensen said. “Let’s hope something changes. . . drankIt’s hard to be optimistic when we’re already halfway through March.”
Dry conditions are evident at Lake McClure, a MID-supervised reservoir that serves as the main source of water supply for local growers. The lake is currently about 29% full. It’s just 56% of the historical average, according to the MID.
Some of the lake’s boat ramps are closed because they no longer extend to the edge of the water, which has receded out of reach. Barrett Cove South Ramp and McClure Point South Ramp are currently open.
As a general rule, MID plans for the irrigation season to leave a reserve of water in the reservoir so that the supply is available in the event of a dry year. But to accommodate Merced County growers this year the plan is to lower the levels.
“In order to provide that one acre foot to our growers, we’re going to lower the reservoir to our lowest level,” Jensen said. “At this point, all we can do is hope we have a good year next year.”
This story was originally published March 16, 2022 5:00 a.m.