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Drought Conditions - OID Authorizes March 3 Irrigation Season Start
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The start of the 2014 water season will be March 3, as approved in an action by the Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors at the Feb. 18 regular meeting. Also approved in the action was the adoption of Level II drought measures.

OID General Manager Steve Knell said that there is an 80 percent probability that the district will get 155,000 acre feet of water this year, according to the Department of Water Resources. He said that’s about 150,000 acre feet short. OID’s annual water allotment is 300,000 acre feet – when enough water has flowed into New Melones Reservoir. Water availability to OID is based solely on inflow into New Melones. OID plans to draw down about 64,000 acre feet of 72,000 acre feet available from its “conservation account” at New Melones in order to cover the shortfall. OID will also run deep well pumps, have only two 10-day rotations this season, and implement other water management policies, adding about 44,000 acre feet. That brings the total to around 258,000 acre feet.

According to the agenda item, even after the most recent storm events, the soil moisture profile is approximately seven inches depleted and short term forecasts don’t show any significant precipitation. With the early start to the irrigation season, it puts more pressure on the district’s tight water budget. Further, if the drought continues, the outlook for next year’s water season is dim.

“It’s going to be a difficult water year,” Knell commented later in the meeting.

He said the district will really know where it stands with water availability at the end of March/beginning of April.

In other business, the board approved a crackdown on dilapidated private irrigation systems. There will be the enforcement of Rules and Regulations numbers 3032 and 3036 regarding the handling of private facilities in disrepair. Knell said that wasteful systems are going to be addressed this year. The agenda item said that a water user notice was sent out on Jan. 23 stating that leaking ditches and pipelines need to be repaired before the start of the irrigation season and systems not in good shape to receive water may not get water. Further, since the notice went out, there have been numerous inquiries to OID staff about various long-standing maintenance issues on private facilities that haven’t been addressed by responsible parties. Many of these situations affect other landowners who irrigate further down on the same line or are flooded out by neighboring properties.

In order to remedy the problems this year: 1.) landowners with deficient facilities will be allowed a remedy date to fix the problem no later than one rotation after the notice, 2.) if no remedy is done by the date allowed, water service will be terminated to all parties with some exceptions, 3.) water won’t be put back into the system until the next regular rotation after inspection by staff to confirm that the issue has been addressed satisfactorily, 4.) special circumstances are at staff’s discretion, and 5.) systems in such disrepair that a timely fix can’t be implemented, water will be terminated until repairs are made.

Also in other business, the board unanimously approved denying any requests for out-of-district service agreements because there is no surplus water available. There is an exception that the Army Corp of Engineers receives for the Orange Blossom Park Recreation Area. Knell said that the reason is because “the government can’t be part of a district.” Those who paid application fees will receive refunds.

Further in business, the board approved for staff to investigate a revised water rate schedule to be in compliance with the Water Conservation Act of 2009 (SBx7-7). The act requires that the district will have to convert to volumetric billing and measurement. Every farm water gate will have to be metered. There are various issues associated with implementing the requirements and the district expects to be in compliance by the 2015 water season. Landowners will have to bear the costs of the installation of the meters in the form of increased water rates. Knell said landowners haven’t seen a rate increase in 35 years. There are also questions about who’ll pay for the record-keeping, calibrating of the meters, and so on.

Stanislaus Farm Bureau representative Tom Orvis commented that it costs about $7,000 to $10,000 per meter. He also said that the county Ag Commissioner will have a stake in all this because that office, which has seen cuts, is responsible for weights and measures. He added that the Turlock Irrigation District has already started on volumetric pricing.

Also in other business, the board approved a funding request of $2,100 to the Oakdale Joint Unified School District for its fourth grade salmon studies program. The funds cover the cost of bussing approximately 400 students.

Director Steve Webb noted that the water year will be difficult and said that OID will get through it “just fine” if everyone pulls together.

The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors is at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 4 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F. The next regular joint board meeting for the Tri-Dam Project is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, also in the OID boardroom.