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OID Approves Lucrative Water Sale By 3-2 Vote

In a move that will bring $2 million to Oakdale Irrigation District coffers, district board members, by a 3-2 vote, approved a deal in a special meeting on Sept. 26 to release 8,000 acre-feet of water to neighboring districts. The transfer and sale would also fulfill wildlife official and environmentalist concerns by swelling the river that would assist in fish migration.

The majority felt the deal was beneficial for OID and a valuable opportunity since at the end of the month proprietary rights to the water returned to the federal government who would release the water themselves, with no financial subsidy to OID.

The water release is necessary to satisfy a Bureau of Reclamation requirement to meet a 28,000 acre-foot fall pulse flow release for the benefit of fisheries.

“The Bureau is offering and the DWR (Dept. of Water Resources) and SLDMWA (San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority) are willing to buy this water if a collective end-of-season contract can be executed amongst willing buyers and sellers before the end of September,” OID GM Steve Knell advised.

In the deal, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and OID would share equally the profits of a 16,000 acre-foot release, sold for $250 per acre-foot.

During discussion, the issue of an environmental review was brought up by Director Linda Santos who was one of the dissenting votes. Santos also questioned whether the move had approval from the State Water Resources Board.

The lack of an environmental review was the crux of an April lawsuit brought by local farmers Louis Brichetto and Robert Frobose acting as the “Oakdale Groundwater Alliance.”

“Before the Board was a contract document put together by the legal minds of three irrigation district attorneys; OID, SSJID and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority and one state agency,” Knell told The Leader after the meeting. “This was a contract to provide a quantity of water to meet a required fish pulse flow by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, who also had input into the development of a contract. All that horsepower standing by the validity of the action being requested apparently meant nothing to the two directors who voted against the project on their own theories of how best to protect OID water rights.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, the SSJID voted unanimously to join in the sale.

After both districts’ approval, Knell said it was important to emphasize that there is just one water right on the Stanislaus River and the right is co-owned and equally shared between OID and SSJID.

“What took OID’s Board one hour and 20 minutes to vet and vote on took SSJID less than 10 minutes,” Knell said. “That differential is a reflection of board knowledge and experience on water and water rights.”

Knell added that the amount of time devoted to the matter was important for those on the board who are on a steep learning curve and those public members in attendance.

“I think the final outcome was supported by the knowledge and experience presented in the discussion that occurred,” Knell said. “If anything, hopefully everyone learned more about how OID and SSJID manages and protects their water rights.”