Madera Irrigation District’s new water supply enhancement project has been launched in happy and enthusiastic fashion. A crowd of about 300 gathered at the eastern entrance to the unique 13,646-acre Madera Ranch as a ceremonial ribbon was cut and a cooperative agreement was signed by MID directors and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Those attending heard several speakers praise the project as an excellent tool for creating a solution that generates short-term benefits that can help ease larger state water supply and environmental issues and problems.
“What MID is doing will improve Madera County’s water supplies and reduce groundwater overdraft for decades to come by capturing flood release water from the San Joaquin and Fresno rivers,” said Madera Irrigation District Board of Directors President Gary Bursey. “This project will protect the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater on which we rely and be a major step forward in integrated regional water management.”
Bursey pointed out that had the project been fully operational during the past two water years when above-average runoff occurred, some 110,000 acre-feet of water could have been banked, an amount equivalent to more than one fifth the capacity of Millerton Lake.
“MID growers will benefit but so will Madera city and county residents, and other interests as well,” Bursey said. “That includes the land itself. The project has been designed carefully so that it will preserve Madera Ranch’s unique open space environment and wildlife habitat. Water operations facilities will take place on less than 10 percent of the ranch.”
The project is designed to enhance water supply reliability and flexibility while helping maintain affordable water costs for farmers and reducing groundwater overdraft. It is a new tool in the conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water upon which Madera County depends but will also promote integrated regional water management and provide environ-mental benefits.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, noted that the Madera Ranch water bank concept has been around 15 years. “The idea always had merit,” Costa said, “but it wasn’t the right proposal.” He added in congratulating MID and its project partners, “I think we finally got it right.”
Frank Bigelow, Chairman of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, said that despite success by MID, Reclamation and other agencies in putting the Madera Ranch project together, “We cannot stop working on additional facilities along the San Joaquin River. That river is our life’s blood.”
Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director Donald R. Glaser, in his keynote address, pointed out that solutions to the issues and questions that have added up to a major water crisis in recent years will take decades in some cases to resolve.
“We need to think about near-term water supplies,” Glaser said, adding that the Madera Ranch development is an excellent example of what can be done locally and regionally. “It is your vision, your plan and your persistence that has resulted in this project,” he said.
As for larger, more complex and often controversial statewide water needs, Glaser observed, “There is no clear path.” Nor is there unanimity within the water user community on what needs to be done, he said. Glaser predicted, however, that a comprehensive solution lies ahead. “We will reach it because we must,” he said.”
Much of the project is located on the Madera Ranch property but there will be off-site facilities. The first phase of development is focusing on groundwater recharge and limited recovery facilities. Other work will include reconditioning, extending and expanding existing canals and ditches being used to convey water to and from Madera Ranch. Some 55 acres of recharge basins will be constructed on existing ranch farmland. A second phase will develop facilities for water recovery and supplemental recharge. That will include about 40 water recovery wells and 11 lift stations, the latter to be used to deliver recovered water within Madera County. Nine-tenths of the Madera Ranch property will remain habitat and open space.
The project will be able to recharge about 55,000 acre-feet of water annually (when available) and has a capacity of some 250,000 acre-feet. The project has been designed to protect neighboring growers whose farms also depend upon the aquifer.