The fallowing program proposed by the Oakdale Irrigation District last year has been criticized and the district itself taken to task by Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne.
In a decision released this week, Beauchesne basically said the OID board – in a majority vote – was wrong in approving a negative declaration in regards to the fallowing program. The negative declaration indicates that fallowing the land (taking it out of production) and then selling district water that isn’t needed for irrigating that land wouldn’t have an impact on the district. Judge Beauchesne disagreed with the process the OID board took to get there, ruling that the negative declaration didn’t meet the basic requirements of the law in a case where he said a much more detailed report was required.
With a 3-2 majority vote of the board, the negative declaration was approved but the fallowing program never came to fruition. It did, however, prompt a lawsuit within the OID board against dissenters Linda Santos and Gail Altieri after they voted against the negative declaration.
Beauchesne also indicated in his decision that OID should have studied the impact that sending water out of the district would have on the local groundwater levels and if it would be detrimental to those levels. The judge’s ruling basically orders OID to rescind the decision to create the fallowing program. The ruling followed a one-day trial earlier this year.
“This is a milestone victory for the Stanislaus Groundwater Committee’s goal of stabilizing and improving this county’s Groundwater Basins,” said plaintiff Louis Brichetto in a written statement. “OID has the water and the ability to positively impact this area and portion of Stanislaus County’s Groundwater Basins. The Court’s direction to OID is not only to analyze the effects on water abandonments and sales to other regions but to positively address Groundwater issues within OID’s jurisdiction with OID surface water.”
Ultimately, added Brichetto, he sees this as a victory, provided OID abides by the decision.
“We are pleased the court held OID accountable for analyzing and mitigating the impacts associated with selling water for use out of our area,” Brichetto noted. “We hope the ruling sends a strong message to the OID Board that its actions must comply with state laws designed to protect the environment and local water supplies which include current and future needs.”
OID is expected to discuss options at a meeting next week, which could include appealing the decision.