Merced Irrigation District to host emergency drought meeting

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 5, 2014 

  • WHAT: 2014 Drought Crisis & Water Supply Outlook meeting

    WHEN: Friday, 1 p.m.

    WHERE: Sierra Hall at the Merced County Fairgrounds

    MORE INFO: www.mercedid.org, click on “Drought Watch”

Water rates, emergency planning and a drastically shortened growing season will likely be the major themes of a drought meeting Friday hosted by the Merced Irrigation District.

Friday’s meeting is one of several planned to help farmers plan for what many believe will be a very tough year. Growers face the worst drought year in memory, with water and snowpack levels at historic lows.

Mike Jensen, MID spokesman, said conditions are breaking records set in 1903.

From October through December, the district saw 5,500 acre-feet of water, compared with an average of about 66,000 acre-feet in a typical year, MID said.

An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre 1 foot deep.

“The statewide drought is placing tremendous hardship on MID growers,” Jensen said. “Although the district cannot change the snowpack, we want to provide our growers with every bit of information and take any possible action that will assist them in getting through the season.”

Earlier this week, the MID board of directors declared a formal drought emergency.

With only about a third of normal levels of water available this year, officials anticipate more than $10 million in lost revenue for the district. In an effort to bridge the projected budget shortfall, the board of directors has also taken the first steps toward raising water rates for growers.

Farmers expressed mixed feelings over the proposed rate hikes following the board of directors meeting.

MID General Manager John Sweigard said the district must take drastic steps to make it through this year and described the proposed cost increases as necessary for “survival.”

Formal reports on possible rate increases are expected at the board’s next meeting March 4.

Scott Stoddard from the University of California Cooperative Extension, an expert on “limited resource farms,” will be discussing “deficit irrigation practices” at Friday’s meeting, Jensen said.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar.com or (209) 385-2482.

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