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OID Considers Drilling Deep Wells

POSTED January 5, 2010 3:01 p.m.
The Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors is seriously considering the prospect of drilling several deep wells for a variety of reasons including adding to water reliability, water sales confidence, but especially because there is concern about state legislation on the horizon that may put restrictions and regulations on drilling wells to tap groundwater.
There was much discussion from the board at the Jan. 5 regular meeting, with director Jack Alpers leading the charge and stating that he felt the district needed at least three new deep wells, as they would serve as an “insurance policy” for the district. Director Steve Webb said he felt that the district needed six of them and that deep wells could work for a multitude of purposes.
OID General Manager Steve Knell said that “deep wells are an integral part of the Water Resources Plan” but that designing where deep wells fit into the system has not yet been developed. He said it’s cheaper to recapture surface water leaving the district than drilling wells. He asked the directors where they wanted to focus the efforts of the program. He added that this is the problem with legislation, as it spurs entities to do things they hadn’t yet planned to do. While board members acknowledged that pending legislation may shift the priorities of drilling versus recapturing water first, they said that both things needed to be done.
“I don’t think we should take too much time doing this,” said director Herman Doornenbal. He made reference to strict well-drilling practices in Idaho, which he said is a state that is more business and ag friendly than California, but that this state won’t be far behind in imposing such restrictions.
Farmer John Brichetto offered his two cents, suggesting that the district could save capital by partnering with farmers who drill their own deep wells for frost protection, and sharing in the wells. Director Al Bairos commented that there were pros and cons to both plans. Knell added that a farmer could decide to drill a well and do it in one day, while it takes the district more than a year because of the permitting process, land acquisition, and so on.
The board directed staff to come up with a plan and research the funds needed to move the project forward.
In other business, the board approved a one-year extension to its participation in the recently-expired 10-year San Joaquin River Agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide pulse flow release of water, also known as VAMP (Vernalis Adaptive Management Plan). The agreement has been beneficial to all the eastside tributary districts in that it provides regulatory protection for one more year, according to the agenda information.
A new federal Biological Opinion, which will eliminate the continuation of VAMP, changes flow release requirements to meet flow standards/criteria/objectives in the San Joaquin River to improve Delta health that OID says are impossible to meet and will leave New Melones Reservoir completely dry at times.
Regardless, the district’s commitment to the USBR will remain the same for this contract extension at a firm 26,000 acre feet (11,00 acre feet for VAMP and 15,000 acre feet of “additional water,” plus the difference of any VAMP water not released during the pulse flow). This results in an estimated $80 per acre foot of income to OID of about $2.08 million. Knell said this will be the last of VAMP.
Also in other business, Knell had previously reported that he was approached by Rubicon Systems, an Australian company specializing in products and services that enable water authorities to manage and operate their systems more efficiently.
Knell said that Rubicon is looking to open a manufacturing operation in the U.S. and is interested in using OID, and a few other irrigation districts in the west including one in Kennewick, Wash. and one in Colorado to showcase its water systems. Knell said the company is interested in OID because of the district’s plans for modernization.
Rubicon designs and manufactures water control gates, precision water measurement instruments using wireless technology, and monitoring and control software. OID has automated its main canal and lateral heading systems with Rubicon gates over the past three years.
Knell said that Rubicon will send a design team to the district in the spring to evaluate the district and develop cost/pricing. He added that it won’t be free, but it will be at an “attractive” rate to be installed. The agenda information stated that showcasing its products on this continent is a better deal for Rubicon than flying potential clients to observe their systems in Australia.
Also according to the agenda, “Rubicon is proposing the automation of an OID canal system with both hardware and software control equipment in place and operational to demonstrate the functionality, use and benefits of their products.”
Rubicon also wants to have Knell and one board director visit their facilities in Melbourne, Australia. Rubicon apparently has “huge” automated systems in place and a corner on the market there. Knell said that the trip – lodging and airfare – would be funded by the government of Australia to promote Australian business, but that OID would be responsible for meals. The trip would including meeting with Rubicon executives and staff, discussing technology and application, a tour of Australia’s “Central Valley” to observe water management systems, talk with customers, tour the Rubicon factory, and irrigation districts. The company suggested that the trip be in the latter half of February. The OID board agreed to select a board member at a later time to send with Knell on the trip.
The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.

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