A significant increase in fines for water theft was unanimously approved at the Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors regular meeting on Feb. 4.
OID had one or two cases that were enforced last year but the district believes that the drought situation makes the possibility of water theft or tampering increase.
“The first offense is $500, it needs to go up,” said Director Al Bairos. “I think it should be a minimum of $1,500 for the first offense and after that have the water taken away.”
He moved that the first offense of water theft be increased to $1,500 and for the second offense to be a combination of $2,500 and the farm irrigation gate to be locked. It was seconded and passed.
The policy also calls for all water that was potentially withdrawn to be paid for by the offending party at the out-of-district water rate. The policy had been at $500 for the first offense, $750 for the second offense, and $1,250 for the third offense.
Director Frank Clark said he’s in favor of being able to levy fines because it’s very serious but asked what a person’s recourse is, whether they’re guilty or not.
General Manager Steve Knell said that if the ground is wet when it shouldn’t be, then that’s how it’s determined. According to the policy, the Water Operations Manager determines the volume that was withdrawn without authorization.
In other business, the board unanimously approved a one-year variance to Rule and Regulation No. 4010 regarding water deliveries during the 2014 irrigation season to ornamental ponds.
There are 160 ponds in OID, some are for Ag purposes such as aquaculture (fish production), tail water and operational spill recapture, drain water capture, and irrigation supply reservoirs, while others are ornamental. It’s estimated that 20 percent of the ponds have been historically supplied with surface water from the OID system and are filled for ornamental purposes only.
“Our water right is specifically for agriculture,” Knell said.
He added that some of the ponds, depending on their soil profiles, may be quite valuable in terms of groundwater recharge but others offer basically no recharge and only serve as evaporation points. He said that the pond policy needs to be addressed by the board and told them to keep in mind that the district’s policy is not to have (ornamental) ponds. He said the board needs to drill down on the policy to define what ponds do and don’t do. He also said that if the drought continues next year, there won’t be any ponds because the crops will need it all.
The OID board directed staff to develop a pond policy last year but various issues prevented it and new concerns have raised more questions on how to craft such a policy. OID expects to meet most of its water deliveries this year.
Also in business, the board approved a revisiting of the 2014 budget in light of the lack of wholesale power generation, water transfer sales, and annexation revenues. OID will have to make budget adjustments during the year to offset losses at Tri Dam because of the lack of rain to generate power. The agenda said the budget is facing a potential $4.6 million shortfall in revenues.
Further in business, the board also unanimously agreed to withdraw participation in the San Joaquin County Water Advisory Commission. The board also approved upgrading of the ClearSCADA software system because its current one is being retired by Microsoft, and therefore it’ll no longer support the operating system. This is a non-budgeted item that is not to exceed a cost of $12,000.
The board also approved another non-budgeted item to fix the Oakdale deep well pump at Fifth and C streets. When the well was recently inspected, the column pipe was disintegrating and a significant amount of gravel and debris fell into the pump, damaging it. It is expected to cost just under $56,395.
In Knell’s report, Tuolumne County sent a notice asking OID for 2,300 acre feet of water because Tuolumne City will be out of water by Memorial Day. Knell said there are going to be a lot of issues in these basins because everything is so dry – even if there is rain. He noted that Tuolumne County and the mountain communities are made up of a series of independent, stand-alone systems. Very few are interconnected.
In director comments, Steve Webb said that at Tri-Dam, a committee will use the J Powers recruitment firm out of Sacramento to start the search for a new Tri-Dam manager. He also said that the Tri-Dam meeting scheduled for the Feb. 20 needed to be moved to Feb. 27.
In public comments, pasture owner Chuck Seaton said he would like the board to reconsider the land idling (fallowing) program because he said that pasture owners don’t get a vote and he’d like to have a say. He said that with the way things look now, he’s not going to get good grass anyway.
The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F. The next joint board meeting of the Tri-Dam Project will be at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, also in the OID boardroom.