Farmers await news from Merced Irrigation District on water season

03/14/2014 8:37 PM

03/14/2014 11:20 PM

Merced County farmers expect to find out next week when the irrigation season will officially begin and how much water will be available for their crops.

The Merced Irrigation District board of directors will take up the issue Tuesday at its regularly scheduled public meeting. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.

Recent rainstorms in Merced County have done little to help drought-plagued farmers, district officials said this week. Growers likely face a shorter irrigation season than normal and higher water prices as California enters its third consecutive dry year.

“The storms have been nice, but haven’t really been enough to change anything,” district spokesman Mike Jensen said. “We’re still very far below where we need to be. It’s still going to be a very difficult year.”

According to the National Weather Service in Hanford, Merced County has received just 3.67 inches of rainfall since July 1, 2013. Typically during that time, the county collects about 9.63 inches, meteorologist Jim Andersen said.

“That’s almost a 6-inch deficit off the average,” Andersen said. “We’re not seeing any rain expected this coming week; nothing on the horizon.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, MID staff will present a report detailing exactly how much surface water will be available to growers this summer.

Officials believe it won’t be much.

At an MID board meeting in February, General Manager John Sweigard said the district is looking at “acre-inches, not acre-feet” this year. Irrigation water is measured per acre-foot, which is the amount of water required to cover an acre of land 1 foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.

In a typical year, the district sells about 300,000 acre-feet of water to Merced growers. But according to a report released earlier this month, under present drought conditions the district anticipates having only about 98,000 acre-feet of water to sell to farmers.

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