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Drought forces Merced Irrigation District to buy water

To help growers trying to keep their permanent crops alive in a drought year, the Merced Irrigation District is buying water from the Stevinson Water District.

Ted Selb, deputy general manager of MID, said the district will buy 2,400 acre-feet of water, and that water will be sold to certain district growers. One acre foot of water is enough to meet the industrial and municipal needs of four people for a year.

The water sales will be limited to growers of trees, vines, permanent pasture and alfalfa only. These permanent crops need the extra water to get through the end of summer, Selb said.

“We have had a number of hardship requests by growers who have run out of their allotted water already,” Selb said. Growers were allowed 2.5 acre-feet per acre this year, down from a normal of 3 acre-feet or above.

About 10 percent of growers have run out of water so far this year, Selb said, and he expects more by the end of the season. MID’s water season ends Sept. 30, which is an early end to the season, Selb said. Normally, water is turned off in October.

The water is being purchased because of two critically dry years in a row, Selb said. Although there are no long-range forecasts yet for this winter’s precipitation, Selb is cautious when he talks about next year’s allotments.

“In our last critically dry years, in 1976 and 1977, the water allotment was only 1.5 acre-feet,” Selb said. “I’m not saying it would be that low, but it’s a possibility.”

Growers who qualify for the water can begin ordering it on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at the MID office, 744 W. 20th St. in Merced. The growers must sign a brokerage agreement and make advanced payment of $56 an acre-foot. The one-time maximum amount of water is 20 acre-feet per entity. Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis until all the water is committed.For more information, call the MID at (209) 722-5761.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or