MID: We're in a good situation heading into winter season

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 1, 2012 

The Merced Irrigation District is heading into the winter with a slightly below-average carry-over of water remaining its reservoir following the irrigation season.

That's good news, considering last season the district faced the worst drought in more than a century until several late-season storms hit.

"In spite of what began as the driest year on record, we were blessed with an incredibly successful season," said Hicham Eltal, deputy general manager of water resources. "Other nearby districts were forced to end their season as early as July."

As of Nov. 1, the reservoir at Lake McClure held 384,000 acre-feet of water, about 84 percent of average. An acre-foot of water covers one acre, one foot deep.

"I think we're in a good situation," said Suzy Hultgren, chairwoman of the MID board of directors. "With an average rainfall, we'll be in good shape."

The MID receives an average of about 640,000 acre-feet of water a year from spring runoff, which flows from the Sierra down the Merced River. If the reservoir receives at least 93 percent of that, the district should be in good shape, according to officials.

Policy hinges on runoff

"We need 600,000 acre-feet of projected runoff for next year to have an irrigation season similar to 2012," Eltal said. "The board ultimately decides on policy issues including those regarding groundwater pumping and reservoir-carryover targets."

There's a "weak" El Nino lingering in the tropical Pacific Ocean that is expected to peak around March or April, according to MID officials. The National Weather Service has forecast equal chances of above- and below-average precipitation for Central California.

Going into the winter season, the MID plans to do a number of capital improvement projects, which when completed are estimated to conserve about 10,000 acre-feet of water a year.

"Merced Irrigation District has several projects under way this season," said Mike Jensen, MID spokesman. "It's working to reline and improve several sections of our canal system."

Officials plan to finish a project southwest of Livingston, installing 13,000 feet of pipeline, as well as relining about 14,000 feet of canals in the area.

Also in the Livingston area, north of Sunset Avenue, the district plans to replace 11,000 feet of dilapidated concrete-lined canal and install 4,000 feet of pipeline.

The district also plans to replace pipeline northwest of Le Grand.

The MID has 825 miles of canals, which service about 2,500 growers in the district, irrigating about 140,000 acres.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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