The Merced Irrigation District’s farmers will get more water than they did last year – but some growers worry the price they will pay for that water is too high.
MID’s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate 275,000 acre-feet of water from Lake McClure into canals for farmers, essentially using every drop of available water for the upcoming growing season.
An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land 1 foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.
The district will allocate 4 acre-feet per acre for most growers at $66 per acre-foot. Growers can place water orders beginning Monday.
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“We’re trying to take every drop of water we can and move it into the system,” said Hicham Eltal, MID’s deputy general manager for water supply.
Eltal said March was a good month for the district in terms of precipitation and weather, but the reservoir still is lower than its historical average, at about 330,000 acre-feet.
Some growers in the audience at Tuesday’s special meeting raised concerns about the cost of water.
“We’ve got to cut corners like you,” said Frenchy Meissonnier, a Merced County rice farmer. “I’m happy to be able to farm, but I can’t go broke doing it.”
The final price was significantly lower than initial recommendations, which put a $100 per acre-foot price tag on irrigation water.
The board in 2014 raised the price from $23.25 per acre-foot to $100.67. The stiff price hike was implemented to help the district close a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.
Some noted that neighboring irrigation districts, such as Turlock, were offering more competitive prices.
Board director Jeff Marchini said that in the past MID has offered lower rates, “but those days are gone.” Marchini also said water districts south of Merced are in worse shape.
MID officials said staff members took into consideration the mix of crops, debt expenses, groundwater pumping and the cost to relicense New Exchequer Dam when setting a price point for water.
At this time last year, MID said it wouldn’t have any water for farmers.
John Sweigard, MID’s general manager, said farmers should get used to what they’re seeing this season. “This is what a typical year might look like in the future.”
Others in the audience also were concerned that the irrigation allocations would bring Lake McClure down to its minimum storage requirements without any extra water if conditions are dry next winter. MID officials said an extra 100,000 acre-feet of water wouldn’t make much of a difference in a dry season. Sweigard also said the district worried farmers would pump more water if less surface water was made available.
MID will not offer its Supplemental Water Supply Pool Program, which provides growers with groundwater previously recharged by the district.
“It’s been a tough four or five years for all of us,” said Bryan Kelly, MID’s deputy general manager for water resources. “We’re going to be a bit more flexible than a normal year. We want this to be a good year.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477