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OID Approves Water Sale

H2O To SF?

POSTED October 1, 2013 3:54 p.m.

In a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, the Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors okayed the plan to move forward with a deal to sell water to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SF PUC), operating through the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF). The approval was for a one-year option, although, some contingencies must be met first. Director Steve Webb was the dissenting vote.

OID General Manager Steve Knell said that the long-range projection is still for a dry fall. He said that various entities are starting to line up for water deals to protect themselves for next year, including two Westside water districts and CCSF. CCSF expects to have over 2,000 acre feet of shortfall in dry years.

In order to do the deal with CCSF for a transfer in 2014 of 2,240 acre feet, OID must execute a “wheeling” agreement to move the water with Modesto Irrigation District because it’s interconnected with both OID’s and San Francisco’s systems, as well as a storage agreement with MID and Turlock Irrigation District for the water to be credited/stored in Don Pedro. Knell will work on those agreements. The water transfer to SF PUC will not take place unless agreements are struck with MID and TID. Those MID and TID agreements would have to be signed by November in order to move water by March due to environmental quality act requirements, Knell said. The price of the water transfer hasn’t been solidified because of the unknown costs of the wheeling and storage fees. Knell added that the price of water goes up later in the year if the winter continues to have less rainfall than average. Further, if OID and CCSF can’t agree on price, OID isn’t obligated to sell them the water. CCSF has “reserved” the water at $50 per acre foot, or $112,000, for the option to make the 2,240 acre feet purchase.

Director Jack Alpers said he doesn’t expect MID to cooperate before the election, which takes place in November, but Knell said he sees advantages for MID to take the water from OID because it’s a conservation practice for MID, as they’d have to move water anyway but OID is taking the normal losses in moving the water to their facility.

Director Frank Clark commented that the amount to transfer is less than one percent of OID’s water and that he sees it as a small risk, adding that it can’t be harmful for OID customers. Knell also said that OID did a 40,000 acre feet transfer last year to San Luis water district and state water contractors and was still left with about 10,000 acre feet.

“What bothers me about all of this… The actual pool we have left in Melones going into this year is a lot less than it was last year… We’re going to have a hell of a time taking care of ourselves,” Webb said.

Director Al Bairos commented that if OID doesn’t get 100 percent of its water allotment, which was later clarified as being OID customers being made whole, then the deal is off the table.

Knell commented that California law states that domestic water use has a higher priority than Ag use. He added that OID is fully protected and that he’s anticipating enough water to still be able to transfer another 40,000 acre feet of water. It was stated that OID has been using 235,000 acre feet to 245,000 acre feet of water. Knell later said that water transfers are imperative to OID’s financial well-being.

Director Herman Doornenbal commented that the water isn’t going to bring top dollar because OID isn’t “assuring” SF PUC with the water. Knell said that issue gave the San Francisco negotiators “heartburn.”

In other business, the board also voted 4-1, with Director Bairos being the dissenting vote, to approve a pilot program for drought-idling and on-farm water conservation for the 2014 water year. Director Webb qualified his “yes” vote as being cast so as to give farmers the opportunity to improve their on-farm systems.

The program relates to conserving water that would otherwise irrigate pasture or crops to make it available for sale. It would be limited to 2,500 acres, with 10- to 39.9-acre plots taking up 500 acres worth and the other 2,000 acres being comprised of 40 acres and larger parcels. The incentive would be that 30 percent of a water sale would be paid in cash to the farmer, OID would take 10 percent for overhead, and 60 percent would go toward on-farm conservation projects such as replacing old pipelines, going from open ditch to pipeline, laser land leveling, and land conversion to lower water use crops. There are some other criteria to be met, which Knell said had to be the best “bang for the buck” circumstances. He added that OID expects a lot of applications. Contracts will be drawn up in January, he said.

Doornenbal commented that it’s the on-farm conservation projects that get done where OID will actually save water in the long run.

In discussion items, Director Clark said he’s had many people ask him questions about groundwater and he feels that OID needs to have an intelligent answer. Director Alpers said OID contributes to a groundwater study and added that the groundwater problem isn’t like Merced’s problem. Director Webb said searches on the computer reveal well depth measurements done every year and asked what power does anyone have to control the groundwater.

Clark asked if there was an answer at all to whether or not the region would run out of water in 50 to 100 years. Director Doornenbal asked if there’s a track record and asked why they should get passionate about something that may not be a big issue. Clark added to determine that, they need the information. Some comments from the audience included OID’s role or obligation, being proactive, and helping to alleviate problems, even it uses deep wells to a small degree.

Knell said that groundwater is measured twice a year and that it can be seen that the aquifer is getting smaller. He added that water users should be concerned about the county stepping in to attempt regulation, which is currently something gaining traction before the County Board of Supervisors.

Director Bairos said they should just seek information and stay out of oversight. Knell told the board that staff can walk the board through some cumbersome information about the water balance for Ag with the canal system, on-farm systems, the drain system, pumping, how much goes to recharging the supply, and so on.

Farmer John Brichetto commented that OID doesn’t do that much pumping but it’s the areas around Oakdale that lay outside the district’s control area that are depleting the aquifer. Rancher Ken Kraus said he feels there’s some responsibility on those who are drawing large amounts and affecting the people with smaller wells below or around them to do something. Bairos said that in that case someone just has to have a longer “straw” (have a deeper well) to draw from the aquifer.

Knell told Clark and the rest of the board that the information already available could be reviewed in about 60 days to better inform the board but that it will be a high level (overview) presentation.

In private session, negotiations between OID and Westlands Water District over price and terms of water was to take place.

The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.

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