The Merced Irrigation District expects to face a growing dependence on the region’s groundwater due to trends forecast by its Water Resources Management Plan, an in-progress analysis that was discussed by directors and the public at a workshop Tuesday.
Forecasts predict that urban expansion and continuing demand for agriculture will likely drive up reliance on groundwater, said Jason Smesrud, part of a team of analysts from CH2M, an engineering and environmental consulting firm. Tuesday’s meeting provided an update on the work done on the plan over the past year. Bryan Kelly, MID’s deputy general manager for water resources, said he hopes to have the plan completed by April.
Recent analysis projects substantial urban land expansion will decrease available irrigated acreage by about 11,000 acres within the district’s boundary over the coming decades. At the same time, crop expansion on land outside MID’s boundary is expected to increase irrigated acreage by about 10,000 acres over the next 25 years. Farmers present at Tuesday’s workshop asked whether the land-use projections mean MID would expand its boundary. Kelly said that would be a policy decision for the board of directors to consider in the future.
The Water Resources Management Plan essentially is a 30-year business plan for the water district. The plan analyzes land use, farming practices and the way water is delivered to MID customers. MID also has developed computerized financial models to evaluate water resources and options in managing them in the future.
The plan also analyzed the amount of flood and drip irrigation on farmland and projected future irrigation methods. Currently, the district’s western division uses mostly drip irrigation or sprinklers, while the eastern division uses mostly flood irrigation. The difference is due to variations in soils, such as course soil in the west, and in crops. Farmers in the eastern division tend to plant more field crops, pasture and alfalfa.
In the future, the plan projects a shift in crops and irrigation technology. Flood irrigation will be used less, and farmers will plant more orchards and vineyards, the plan forecasts.
The plan also identified improvements and modernization projects for the district and related costs, such as purchasing land for reservoirs, building and regulating reservoirs, and reducing spills from canals and laterals. The priority on the improvement plans is to “move water around better,” said consultant Charles Burt, board chairman for the Irrigation Training and Research Center at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. The goal of such projects is to increase surface water reliability and decrease the dependence on groundwater.
Water balance and financial models presented at the workshop showed options for how MID might operate during various circumstances, such as dry years and under proposed regulatory requirements on flows down the Merced River. The models serve as tools for MID to develop strategies for serving growers in the future.
After Tuesday’s meeting, MID plans to hold additional workshops on specific policy issues requiring MID board and public input. Results from the future meetings will help shape the final recommendations on the plan.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477