A full parking lot and a standing room only crowd that spilled into the hallway of the Oakdale Irrigation District offices was the scene at a special meeting of the OID Board of Directors on Jan. 23. On the agenda was a single closed session item of a potential water sale to the “federal and state export contractors” on the agenda.
In a 3-2 vote after the session, the board decided to send out a flyer to constituents to determine their potential interest in participating in a program to fallow their land. Directors Steve Webb and Frank Clark were the dissenting votes.
Inevitably, the conversation at the special meeting turned to groundwater concerns. Various farmers and other OID constituents voiced their views on a water sale. Emotions ran high with verbal volleys between board members themselves, as well as between board members and the audience.
At the last regular meeting of the board, OID General Manager Steve Knell said that in 2015, the district could see a burning up of 10,000 acres or more of pasture – one third of the district’s pasture land – if the district requires a no runoff program. He had suggested at that meeting, and other prior meetings, that an idling (fallowing) program could help the district. Specifically, it could help address potential surface water shortages this year and next year. He had reported that there are entities interested in having OID constituents do that and are willing to pay.
Westlands Water District is one of those entities and is seeking a two-year deal. OID constituents who are interested and fit the criteria may sign on for either or both years, said OID water attorney Tim O’Lauglin.
Director Webb commented that he wasn’t a fan of fallowing land. Director Clark wanted the issue dropped and asked about the ramifications of fallowing to the aquifer, the environment, and the viability of the land the next year after fallowing.
Director Jack Alpers said that if farmers want to fallow their land, it’s not the OID board’s business, it’s the farmer’s economic decision.
Directors Al Bairos and Herman Doornenbal wanted to know if there are Oakdale farmers who are interested in participating.
Director Webb said that the decision whether to sell the water or not will be based on what the people want. He said the purpose of the meeting was to find out if there was any interest and then have a public meeting later.
After the meeting, Knell said that the flyer will go out in the mail to OID constituents on Monday, Jan. 27 or Tuesday, Jan. 28 and will also be available at the OID office counter. He said it’ll probably be a two-week solicitation period, wrapping on Feb. 7.
Asked about his thoughts on the meeting, he called it “interesting” and said that it’s amazing what people present and that it has an impact on the board. He also said that the board members “take all the bullets.”
He said that between the governor’s proclamation and the State Water Resources Control Board, irrigation districts have to take heed. He said OID is asking, “how do we protect ourselves?” He said that the fallowing program is one option and the board is going to see if there’s traction with it or not.
The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.