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OID Extends SF Water Sale Talks

POSTED December 11, 2012 9:29 p.m.

Due to the “recent beneficial hydrology of this winter” the necessity for the Oakdale Irrigation District to rush toward completing a one-year water transfer with the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) has been minimized, according to a Dec. 10 OID memo and statements made at the Dec. 11 special meeting of the OID Board of Directors.

General Manager Steve Knell said that the memo is a summary of a recent meeting that he and OID water counsel Tim O’Laughlin had with CCSF officials. Knell said the change in the hydrology has changed CCSF’s need for the water. The memo states that CCSF is concerned with meeting its current shortfall of 2,240 acre feet of water needs in dry and critically dry years.

Knell added that this development now allows OID to slow down and take time to consider input and review details for a contract. O’Laughlin said that a contract would be available for the board’s approval by or before June 1, 2013. If approved, it would go into effect for 2014.

Knell noted that CCSF representatives talk about “long term” things with the water but that OID’s Ag Water Management Plan will provide more information about water projections moving forward. He said it helps the district understand what Oakdale is willing to give, not so much what San Francisco wants.

Knell also brought up how OID loses drain water to Modesto Irrigation District, which is in the neighborhood of 8,000 to 9,000 acre feet, and how the district needs to get a handle on it by recapturing it and being more efficient. He reported that about 60,000 to 80,000 acre feet of drain water leaves the district annually.

Director Frank Clark said that OID needs to first know that there’s a method to “wheel” the water through other districts in order to consider transferring water to CCSF. He also said that in his opinion, a 40- or 50-year contract is “totally out of the question.”

“It looks like a win-win. They need the water and we need the money,” said director Jack Alpers, adding that OID has extra water.

Farmer Tom Gookin commented that MID has to “open the door” to let OID in to transfer water to CCSF, as OID is hooked up to MID’s system and MID is hooked up to CCSF’s system. He added that OID’s prior water sales “came out of the pitcher (at the headwaters) before it was poured in the glass … Now it’s going to come out of the glass with a whole bunch of straws in it,” meaning at the end of the system. He asked if transferring water will affect any farmers’ ability to irrigate. Both Knell and O’Laughlin were clear that transfers will not affect rotations or water availability to OID landowners, as OID did a Vernalis Adaptive Management Plan, VAMP, water deal for 12 years through the Claribel Lateral.

O’Laughlin said that OID needs a cooperative agreement with MID to do a deal with CCSF.

Modesto resident Emerson Drake stated that he hoped the board would share some general information about what CCSF requested because they’ve “obviously thrown some numbers” in the board’s direction.

O’Laughlin said they won’t share those numbers at this time because it’s confidential and that within the next five to six months, everyone will have the opportunity to give input and learn what’s been offered before the matter goes before the board for approval.

Drake also noted that OID’s attorney is the same attorney that couldn’t get CCSF to budge on their demands last time (with MID), adding that he wasn’t trying to be critical but just pointing out the fact.

Director Clark responded that OID is a different board than MID and that ultimately the responsibility lies with the board.

Rural Oakdale resident Dottie Kanz asked how hard and how expensive it would be if OID finds out the contract deal isn’t working, due to something such as drought, and OID wants out. She amended her question, further asking that once the contract is over and OID doesn’t want to re-enter another contract but CCSF wants to continue it and decides to take legal action, then would OID be able to get out of it reasonably.

O’Laughlin gave a long answer but stated that he felt fairly comfortable on a one-year deal. He added, however, that on a longer contract there are clauses that deal with things known and not known – the “what ifs” – and that the longer the contract term, the more uncertainty there is about water availability and other issues. He said that there is a huge amount of risk in a longer time period contract, as myriad issues could arise, and that drives the price up.

Knell added that OID has had three prior contracts and they all termed out – one of them was with the federal government and it was a “firm supply” of 26,000 acre feet. He said he’d trust CCSF over the feds any time. He noted that the federal government wanted to extend the contract but gave a lowball offer and OID walked away. He said that there is no support in the law that says anyone can continue to take water because there would be anarchy.

Director Alpers later posed the question of how much risk does OID want to take.

Gookin asked for an explanation in “layman’s lingo” that if OID has three years of drought then who gets the water, CCSF or him, because that’s what everyone wants to know.

O’Laughlin replied that drought has to be defined and that there are many issues have to be tied into the pricing element.

“We have to make (OID) landowners whole first,” he said.

In closed session, the board was to discuss the CCSF water transfer issue and the Trinitas annexation.

The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.

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