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Water Sale Talk Stirs Up OID

POSTED November 20, 2012 8:10 p.m.

A packed house of concerned farmers and area citizens filled the Oakdale Irrigation District boardroom on Nov. 20 to hear discussion on a potential water sale to the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) at the OID Board of Directors regular meeting.

CCSF contacted OID expressing an interest in purchasing water. At the meeting it was reported that CCSF is looking for a one-year water transfer and that the directors were going to learn of the details in closed session.

The directors denied that they knew any details about what CCSF was proposing and said that they just read about it in an area daily metropolitan newspaper. That article had stated that CCSF was seeking an initial sale of 2,240 acre-feet. It also stated that the city was willing to pay a premium for the water – a price of $700 per acre/foot had been offered by CCSF to Modesto Irrigation District. That deal recently fell through after an uprising from MID constituents.

“I’ve always been a hard sell when it comes to transfers,” said OID director Steve Webb. “I don’t know how anyone can make a decision when they don’t have the facts yet – and we don’t have those.”

If OID sold water to CCSF, it would have to go through MID canals and into the Hetch Hetchy system. OID is currently involved in a CEQA process for a potential water sale to the City of Brisbane, although a contract has not yet been presented.

Director Al Bairos asked the question if OID was better off selling to CCSF and Brisbane or annexing farmers – and what is the value difference.

OID General Manager Steve Knell reported that the district is in the process with consultant CH2M Hill to answer those questions posed by Bairos and the answers may be available in early December.

Once the audience was allowed to comment, some of the back-and-forth between the commenters and the board members got tense.

Farmer Ray Lial said that the farmers aren’t just upset about the entity that the water would go to but that they are upset about the amount of leftover water at the end of the irrigation season that is lost to the federal government (in New Melones) and that water is being transferred out of the district. He asked why that extra water going out couldn’t be offered to the farmers. He added that farmers are also concerned that a one-year commitment to CCSF could turn into a multi-year commitment.

Modesto resident Emerson Drake commented at the meeting that he didn’t understand the math that some of the OID directors were talking about regarding water that was getting left up at Melones and water savings potential elsewhere. He said that CCSF has built rates into water sales for “almost forever” and that CCSF “refused to negotiate a shorter contract with MID.”

He met with some argument from director Jack Alpers about OID drainage water going to MID. Alpers said the math did make sense and that OID could save that drain water that MID gets for free.

“As MID found out, San Francisco is a big snake,” Drake added.

Farmer Tom Gookin asked the board that if OID got a contract with CCSF and the water has to go down the South Main, then what if the high-risk tunnel on the South Main failed and then OID couldn’t get the water to Nancy Pelosi’s swimming pool. He said that OID needs to “CYA” – cover its “assets.”

Director Frank Clark commented that CCSF has only come to OID with a proposal and he couldn’t answer the question. He had earlier commented that OID has done transfers before but as soon as San Francisco is mentioned, everybody goes crazy. He had also agreed with Drake about San Francisco being a big snake.

Director Herman Doornenbal stated that the OID directors were “in the dark” about what exactly CCSF was proposing.

Denise Hanlan commented that no one had talked about ground water and the table under the City of Oakdale and how transfers affect that. Clark interrupted her and said that wasn’t the issue to be addressed at the meeting. She and Clark went back and forth and he gave her the gavel a couple of times stating she was out of order and the topic wasn’t about the water table.

Stanislaus Farm Bureau representative Tom Orvis referred to the Bay Area, noting that “it’s a different world over there and they have votes.” He said that he’s going to hold OID to complete transparency, whether or not they do this deal. He also cautioned that OID needs to be careful. He noted that on one hand OID is saying it needs the water and have the “Save the Stan” campaign, while on the other hand OID is saying it has the water and to come and get it. He also reminded them to think about municipal water talks that OID has had with the City of Oakdale.

Director Webb commented that it would be less stressful as a board member to tell San Francisco to go away.

Orvis replied that the OID board has a fiduciary responsibility to the district and the people of the district.

Former Oakdale Mayor Pat Kuhn also commented that anyone in public service is just a steward of the resources they’ve been put in charge of and that they don’t own it. She said that it’s a public servant’s job to hear what people have to say and that even if people start to stray slightly, then the leaders should keep an open mind. Kuhn appreciated that director Bairos’ comments showed leadership and that the board should prioritize, do some goal setting, and think about the farmers looking for annexation. She said the idea will be easier to sell if the community feels they are getting a benefit. She added that she feels strongly about Ag and about water and that maybe some of the farmers getting water is equally important.

Rancher Ken Kraus stated that OID’s had good water sales in the past but those never involved the transfer water going through another entity (MID). He said that San Francisco is a huge city with a lot of people and he’s concerned that once they get water from OID, it could end up with legal ramifications. He felt that once CCSF got its hands on OID water, then they’d be very involved in wanting to keep it, even if time on the contract had run out.

The Leader apologizes for any misspellings on names of commenters from the audience; they were required only to say their name before commenting, not spell it.

In other business, the board heard a report on the 2013 draft budget and also voted to cancel the Jan. 1, 2013 meeting date.

The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 9 a.m. in the boardroom at 1205 East F.

The next regular joint meeting of the Tri-Dam Project is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20, also in the OID boardroom.

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