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Drought limits Merced Irrigation District water allocation - Energy And Water Development Corp

Drought limits Merced Irrigation District water allocation

Water flows into a 600-foot well that irrigates crops in Merced County.

Water flows into a 600-foot well that irrigates crops in Merced County.

With surface water allocations down and costs up, Merced County’s new irrigation season is reflecting the impacts of statewide drought.

Merced County isn’t alone. The nearby Fresno Irrigation District (FID) announced Tuesday that the ongoing parched weather, including a record-dry January and February, led the Board of Directors to postpone its planned start of water deliveries.

The decision came after the board reviewed the latest runoff forecasts and opted to conserve the district’s available water supply, according to a FID news release.

No agricultural water deliveries will be offered by FID in March or April as a result. Plus, no official decision will be made on the start of this year’s water deliveries until early April.

While growers served by the Merced Irrigation District are set to receive water deliveries as planned, those deliveries will be come in shorter supply and at a higher cost than previous years.

MID announced earlier this month that surface water allocation for the 2022 season would be 1.1 acre-feet per acre for in-district growers. The price was set at $100 per acre foot.

That compares with the previous two seasons’ rates of $50 per acre foot. The 2019 and 2020 irrigation seasons were approved without restrictions on surface-water allocations. Prior to approving this year’s limited allocation, MID officials described it as a “difficult decision” triggered by the persistently dry skies.

The rate hike is due to bond requirements and MID policies to maintain financial reserves as a buffer against the impacts of multiple dry years, MID spokesperson Mike Jensen told the Sun-Star.

Most of the state, including Merced County, is experiencing severe drought conditions. “We didn’t get the snow and water that we needed in the Sierras this year,” Jensen said. “Hopefully something changes . . . but it’s hard to be optimistic when we’re already halfway through March.

The dry conditions are evident at Lake McClure, a reservoir overseen by MID that serves as the primary water supply for local growers. The lake is currently about 29% full. That’s just 56% of the historic average, according to MID.

Some of the lake’s boat ramps are closed because they no longer extend to the water’s edge, which has retreated out of reach. Barrett Cove South Ramp and McClure Point South Ramp are currently open.

Typically, MID plans for the irrigation season to leave a contingency of water left in the reservoir so that supply is available in case of a dry year. But to accommodate Merced County’s growers this year, the plan is to bring levels down lower.

“In order to provide that one acre foot to our growers, we’re going to pull the reservoir down to our lowest level,” Jensen said. “At that point all we can do is hope we have a good year next year.”

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a reporter for the Merced Sun-Star. She covers the City of Atwater and Merced County. Abbie has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Public Relations from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

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