One-year water sale to benefit drought-stressed parts of the Valley

jholland@modbee.comApril 2, 2013 

The Oakdale Irrigation District board on Tuesday will consider a one-year water sale to drought-stressed parts of the Valley, including some of Merced County.

The water would be delivered this spring via the lower Stanislaus River, which could benefit young salmon headed out to sea, OID General Manager Steve Knell said Sunday.

The district and the adjacent South San Joaquin Irrigation District each propose to sell 40,000 acre-feet of water. It would be bought for $100 per acre-foot by the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, made up of numerous irrigation districts, and the California Department of Water Resources.

Some of the Merced County water districts in the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority include Henry Miller Reclamation District #2131 in Dos Palos and San Luis Water District in Los Banos.

The OID and SSJID are in a position to sell water, even during a drought, thanks to strong rights to the Stanislaus and conservation efforts. The OID sale, which would run to Dec. 1, could net the district about $4 million, board president Frank Clark said.

“The real point here is that OID is able to use its extra water to help the farmers on the West Side and at the same time generate revenue that allows OID to continue to improve its infrastructure to conserve even more water,” he said.

The district has paid for canal system upgrades with the income from water transfers, totaling about 40,000 acre-feet, that recently reached an end.

One was to the Stockton East Water District for domestic use. The other was to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to boost Stanislaus flows for fish. The OID also is negotiating with San Francisco for a dry-year backup for next year. The city tried to do a longer sale with the Modesto Irrigation District, but the plan was dropped in September after protests from people concerned about Modesto-area shortages.

And the OID is working on a long-term sale to Brisbane, a tiny city just south of San Francisco.

The San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority is made up of 29 agencies from the Tracy area to western Fresno County, along with parts of San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

Much of this acreage is projected to get only 20 percent of its contracted water from the federal Central Valley Project this year because of drought and fish protections. They can try to buy water from other areas, increase their use of groundwater or let some of the land go fallow.

"The water supply reductions facing farmers will devastate the local communities,” said Thomas Birmingham, general manager of the vast Westlands Water District, in a written statement last month.

The water from the OID and SSJID would flow down the Stanislaus to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the West Side districts get water from massive pumps.

The $100 price for an acre-foot -- enough water to cover an acre a foot deep — is far more than what OID and SSJID farmers pay. The Oakdale district last year had a flat charge of $19.50 per acre, allowing as many acre-feet as could be reasonably used.

The OID board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 1205 E. F St., Oakdale.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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