The wealth of rain falling on Merced County this year led the Merced Irrigation District board on Friday to approve a budget that will allow district growers to buy as much water as they want.
The budget for the 2018 fiscal year sets a water rate for MID growers at $33 per acre-foot and a rate of $75 per acre-foot for growers outside the district.
That announcement of unrestricted water sales marked a dramatic turnaround from last year, when the in-district price was $66 per acre foot and farmers were limited to 4 acre-feet per acre. Last year, growers outside the district had to pay $250 per acre-foot if they wanted MID’s water.
Irrigation water is measured per acre-foot, which is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land a foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.
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Lake McClure is facing the likelihood of the wettest year on record, the district said in a statement. As of Friday, the reservoir was 80 percent full and holding about 800,000 acre-feet, compared with this time last year when it was about 15 percent full, holding about 151,000 acre-feet.
“After five consecutive drought years, I think everyone is looking at this as exceptionally good news,” district spokesman Mike Jensen said. “The last time that we saw the reservoir actually as full as we’re seeing it this year was 2011.”
As of Friday, inflow to the reservoir was about 28,000 cubic feet per second and MID was making flood-control releases of about 5,000 CFS to provide space for storm runoff and snowmelt, the district said.
“There is adequate surface-water supply for MID growers as well as other local growers just outside the district’s boundaries,” MID General Manager John Sweigard said in a statement. “We want to take full advantage of this surface water for the benefit of growers and for the benefit of local groundwater in eastern Merced County.”
The abundant supply of surface water from Lake McClure will mean there will be less dependence on individual wells to pump groundwater, “which has been heavily relied on by agriculture and cities alike during the past five years of drought,” the district said.
Selling water to nearby non-MID growers will enable them to turn off their wells, which will further help recharge the groundwater, it said.
“This is going to be extremely beneficial for groundwater,” Jensen said. “Our groundwater is used not only by agriculture but by cities, so having this water available from Lake McClure is a tremendous benefit.”
The local groundwater basin is used by the cities of Merced, Atwater and Livingston, as well as rural domestic wells, the district said.
The district serves an area that includes 138,000 acres of irrigable lands.
Michelle Morgante: 209-385-2456