Oakdale Irritation District (OID) recently completed an annexation deal that was in the works for several years, adding 10,476 acres to the district’s service area, bringing the total area served to 82,821 acres.
The 10,476 acres of new annexations is a commitment of nearly 32,000 acre-feet of water supplied by OID, which is more water on an annual basis than committed by the Modesto Irrigation District to its water plant as well as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District water plant serving Tracy and Manteca.
“While some irrigation districts chose to commit water for municipal purposes, OID chooses to expand and support its agricultural roots,” OID General Manager Steve Knell said, adding, “Both are valuable and beneficial commitments to our region.”
While the annexation process is lengthy, Knell said the current annexation is in line with the district’s awareness of keeping water local.
“For OID, that commitment began in 2006 and continues today as OID implements its water resources strategy,” Knell said. “This strategy was developed beginning in 2004 and culminated in a Water Resources Plan being adopted in 2007. Annexations were and are a key element in that Plan.”
This part of the plan involved identifying small and fringe parcels that were in and out of the district, yet still receiving water. Parcel owners were contacted and an offer of annexation was extended at a cost of $2,600 per acre. Roughly about half of the landowners accepted the annexation.
The deal was the same brokered to corporate farm, Trinitas, which annexed 7,234 acres into the district in 2014.
“It all comes down to farm economics,” Knell said. “And was completely voluntary. It was up to the landowner to make the choice and it basically came down to a financial choice. Was it beneficial for the landowner to annex? For some, it was and for others, it wasn’t.”
For some of the landowners who declined the annexation offer, the geography of the parcel came into play. For example, if the majority of the parcel was comprised of a hill, the need to irrigate was null and it didn’t make financial sense to pay for land that wasn’t going to need water.
Landowners within the district pay $4 an acre-foot while those outside of the district pay $100 an acre-foot.
“For some, there’s a huge incentive to get into the district,” Knell explained.
But as beneficial as annexing can be, the process is laborious and time-consuming for both the district and the landowner.
“People say we should do more and we want to do more but we have outside constraints,” Knell said. “It’s difficult to commit to additional annexations when there are issues hanging over our heads.”
Issues such as looming state regulations that will require districts to help solve the water crisis, Knell said.
The most significant advantage of agricultural annexations is the relief it provides to the groundwater draw.
“That 32,000 acre-feet OID is supplying to these lands has reduced groundwater pumping by that same amount,” Knell said. “All of these annexed lands would be pumping groundwater were it not for OID making surface water available.”
Although California has officially cleared the drought level – this represents surface water – not the ground water, which is still at a distressing level.
“The entire Central Valley is in critical overdraft with the exception of North Merced and Stanislaus,” Knell said.
Groundwater wells were installed 40 years ago at 30 feet down. Today, those wells are 100 feet down and the water table continues a downward trend over the long-term.
And the State of California is pushing for actionable solutions.
“The future problem of water shortage is not just an irrigation problem,” Knell said. “And it’s not going away. Droughts draw attention to the problem but that memory fades as soon as it seems we are no longer in the drought.”
Currently 100,000 acre-feet of water is being mined out of the regional aquifer by new agricultural land developments in the east. These lands are creating a huge draw on the local groundwater, Knell shared.
And it’s a problem that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
To that end, Stanislaus County has created a legislatively mandated regional Groundwater Sustainability Agency for that purpose.