Merced Irrigation District officials on Tuesday said no water will be available from Lake McClure this year and some Merced County farmers may not receive any water at all from the district this year.
Mike Jensen, spokesman for the the district, said four straight years of drought conditions have forced lake levels to just 8 percent of capacity. “Under federal and state regulations, no stored water can be diverted for irrigation once the reservoir has fallen below 11.5 percent, or 115,000 acre feet,” Jensen said in a news release.
Irrigation water is measured per acre-foot, which is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land a foot deep – about 325,900 gallons.
The only water available to the Merced district farmers this year likely will come from the district’s ground wells, and the district expects to pump less than 60,000 acre-feet, just a fraction of the 300,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water typically provided to the district’s 2,200 growers from Lake McClure.
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That water will be available only to the farmers fortunate to live close enough to a district well, Jensen confirmed.
Exactly how much that water may cost farmers has yet to be determined. It was also unclear Tuesday exactly how many farmers may not receive any water from the district this year.
“It’s absolutely devastating, without a doubt,” said Ray Veldhuis, owner of RV Dairy in Winton. “Some people will lose their permanent crops this year. It’s a very bad situation; dire straits.”
The district officials discussed the upcoming irrigation season at two public meetings in February: first at a board of directors meeting and again at a town hall gathering at the Merced County Fairgrounds. The presentation can be found on the district’s website by clicking on the Drought Watch page at www.mercedid.org.
“We are clearly facing severe impacts from a fourth year of drought conditions,” district General Manager John Sweigard said in a statement. “We are going to have a difficult year. As always, our entire staff is committed to doing all we can to assist our growers.”
Sweigard also noted more bad news for the Merced district and its growers is likely to come from the Bay Delta Water Plan, which would mean further significant reductions in water allocations as part of what he said was “the state’s intent to divert more water away from the Merced area.”
“Certainly we are all hoping for the best – which would be some late-season snowstorms,” Sweigard said. “However, from a planning perspective, both MID and our growers need to continue to prepare for the worst.”
Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.