DINUBA – Near the intersection of Road 56 and Avenue 400, posted signage has indicated that some community members near Dinuba are upset with the Alta Irrigation District.
Banners along the side of the road make claims including “Alta management is out to lunch,” “Alta needs new management” and “Alta: Empty promises, empty ditches,” with little indication as to where the grievances come from. Jack Brandt, the president of the Alta Irrigation District board of directors, said the complaints come from some growers in the area who had concerns earlier this year about empty irrigation ditches caused by flood damage.
“I think all the growers have some concerns about the way things ended up being because of all the rain, but there’s a small number of them that are vocal about this, and they have every right to be,” Brandt said. “We listen to them and they’re allowed to have their opinions and have their say.”
Brandt said that, due to damage from flooding in March, Alta had to stop waterflow into its system for about four weeks to make the necessary repairs. Alta didn’t want to risk further damage or other issues caused by conducting quick fixes, which is why the system was completely dried out for the repairs.
With Alta’s position against the foothills, there are 13 creeks that flow into the system. Brandt said that typically, as water is released out of Pine Flat Lake into the Kings River, Alta begins to take as much water as possible to fill up its ditches and deliver water to landowners who want it.
“We, in fact, had started that program some time in February, but when the last series of really strong storms came through … there was so much water coming in off of these uncontrolled creeks that it overwhelmed our system and damaged a lot of our ditches and structures,” he said.
The Alta staff had to “let things dry out” and then repair the damage so that water wouldn’t break away and flood other areas, Brandt said. He said growers also had concerns with other maintenance needs along Alta’s irrigation system.
“With the damage to the system, we repurposed staff time to work on these damaged canals, and so some of the smaller gates leaking or the gates broken for an individual land owner, those things got delayed,” Brandt said.
Alta was not able to get its system running fully until the beginning of May, but Brandt assured there wasn’t too much concern about that negatively impacting the individual crop year. However, without surface water, growers have to pump groundwater for their land, adding on extra operating costs.
“When you can’t divert water into the system to do those things, it creates some anxiety, and rightfully so,” Brandt said.
The damage to the system this year was exponentially more than normal, but the charges Alta’s customers pay for water also helps cover maintenance to the system, Brandt said.
“There’s small canal breaches that you hear about once or twice a year, but typically they don’t impact very many people and they’re easily repaired,” he said. “I would say that it’s been quite some time since we’ve had this amount of damage.”