MERCED — Even though this year's robust rainy season isn't over, when it comes to water, the Merced Irrigation District is riding high.
And that's upbeat news for farmers.
Rain and runoff have filled the district's reservoir, Lake McClure, to more than 90 percent of normal, which could make the coming irrigation season a happier one for the district and local farmers.
The district's board of directors on Tuesday gave General Manager John Sweigard the OK to start the irrigation season whenever he sees fit, without any curtailments, according to Hicham Eltal, deputy general manager.
Compared with recent years, this season is looking much better when it comes to water, said Eltal. "We are definitely a lot better than last year and a lot better than the year before," he said.
While a three-year drought and cutbacks in other parts of the valley have hurt the farming industry, Merced growers served by the district typically have skirted such water delivery reductions.
The last curtailment in the district was in 2008, and before that in 1992.
They almost faced a curtailment last year, a late spring storm dumped enough water into the reservoir to satisfy the needs of district farmers.
This year is looking even better.
For February, the district's reservoir held 200,000 acre-feet more than it did in 2008.
"This year could be an above-normal year," said Eltal.
An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover a football field one foot deep.
Eltal said the wet weather could mean a later opening for the irrigation season. With all the rain, the canals already are partly full. There's also less demand from farmers since their fields are getting rained on, he said.
'Some relief from drought'
Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said the rain this season is a blessing for farmers in Merced.
"I believe the farming community is very excited about the amount of rain we are receiving. It should give us some relief from the drought," she wrote in a statement.
"However, it is still extremely critical for farmers on the west side, since they will only receive a small portion of their allotment at this time."
David Robinson, agricultural commissioner for Merced County, said the rainfall looks good for the county. But he isn't going to count on a good water supply for crops this summer until the snowpack report later in the year.
Despite these reservations, he was fairly upbeat on the subject. "It's the best we've had in three years," he said. "That's for certain."