The unique opportunity to go behind locked gates to see the inner workings of the Oakdale Irrigation District with a tour of some of its tunnels was recently presented to a small group of Oakdale teachers. The Oakdale Joint Unified School District held a staff development day on Jan. 27 and the OID tour was one of the offered workshops where the participants could visit and learn about OID’s water storage and delivery facilities.
“This has been a very popular workshop,” said OJUSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Barbara Shook. “Unfortunately OID is very limited in the amount of people who can attend so only six teachers can go.”
Previously, the tour had been strictly limited to science teachers, who were particularly interested in the geology, the role of the water for salmon, and other facets. This year, the tour was opened up to any teacher in the district who was interested in attending. Shook said the OID tour filled up within a matter of minutes. Those who signed up first for this tour taught subjects that included health, social studies, history, computers and automotive technology.
OID engineer John Davids said that OID views giving the tours as an opportunity to educate the public – the teachers see the district’s facilities first hand and learn about the operations of the district and pass that knowledge on to their students.
“This is an educational tool,” he said to the teachers. “Our goal is to show you the business that we’re in, the facilities we have.”
He later added that the district’s efforts to educate the community about water and canal safety are also very important.
“I’m curious how the whole operation works, the process of diverting water, where it’s going, where it comes from, what it’s used for,” said Oakdale High School teacher Jeremy Fields.
Davids first gave an overview of the district at the OID offices before embarking on the field trip. He talked about the size of the service area, the district’s water rights and political influences that signal changes are coming, the development of a Water Resources Plan, as well as improvements and reconstruction that has been performed.
“We’ve made significant strides in the last five years,” he said.
The tour, led by Davids and associate engineer Eric Thornburn, started at Goodwin Dam and went through six tunnels on the South Main Canal and came to an end just downstream of Two Mile Bar.
Because of the time of year, the tour participants were able to view the double arches of the Goodwin Dam without the water spilling over.
“I never knew water went over that dam,” said OHS teacher Steve Jericoff, noting that he thought that water spilling over the top was usually a bad situation for dams.
However, Goodwin dam was designed for the water to spill over its top, Davids said. He added that during irrigation season when the water goes over the top, it’s quite scenic, creating a large mist with rainbows.
The tour participants also had the unusual opportunity to walk across the suspension bridge that goes over the top of the Goodwin Dam and then gather on a platform on the other side to hear a little more from Davids about the district’s operations.
Next, the tour group, which was divided to occupy two vehicles driven by Davids and Thornburn, took a ride through the drained South Main Canal. The SUVs slowly moved through the first tunnel carved out of the hill, which was lined with shotcrete – a special type of concrete that is sprayed to coat the insides of the tunnels and sides of the canals to reinforce them. Davids reported that there are more than 20 tunnels in the OID system, ranging from a couple hundred feet to 7,000 feet long.
As they wound their way through the water conveyance system with shallow pools and puddles of water throughout different stretches of the canal, the tour guides pointed out different formations and various efforts the district has taken to retrofit the tunnels. Davids showed his group some large metal straps attached to the rock in various places in the tunnels and explained that they were fastened with five-feet long bolts to help keep the rock anchored.
During the tour through the canal and tunnels, Davids also discussed some of the challenges the district faces with operating equipment in the narrow confines of the tunnels and canal, as well as concerns with rock formations and overhangs that seismic events or other issues could trigger to fall.
Just downstream from Two Mile Bar, the vehicles exited the canal and the group got out to walk along a section of canal on a catwalk-like path. In some places, the hillside was nearly vertical up one side of the canal and nearly vertical down the other side, with just a narrow walk space between the canal and the steep down slope. The group took some time to look out over the valley below where the Stanislaus River runs, and then headed back to the vehicles for the trip back to OID headquarters.
The OJUSD development day consisted of different two-hour workshops for teachers and other district staff, though the OID trip took a little more time. OJUSD staff members were able to choose which workshop they attended. Other field trips that day included Stanislaus River Weir and Oakdale Rotary Screw Trap led by a hydrologist from FishBio, Pioneer Equine Hospital, and Guardian House.
Shook said that two days during the year are dedicated to district-wide collaboration, or development. Additionally, there are other days built into the calendar when on-site teacher collaboration takes place.