OID water sale will help Merced County farmers

jholland@modbee.comApril 2, 2013 

Under a water transfer that could help native fish populations, farmers in Merced County will get additional water during this year's critically dry season.

The Oakdale Irrigation District board voted Tuesday to sell water to help West Side farmers for one year. The 5-0 vote came with no objections from the audience.

The district will sell 40,000 acre-feet of its Stanislaus River water to the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, which is made up of numerous irrigation districts from the Tracy area to Fresno County, and the California Department of Water Resources.

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

The water, combined with an equal amount approved by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, will help several West Side districts deal with a sharp cutback in federal water deliveries because of drought and fish protections.

"I think it's one of those situations that will collectively benefit fish flows and in-stream uses at a critical time but will also benefit water users as well," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the water authority.

Delivering the water down the Stanislaus River is expected to boost spring flows for young salmon heading out to sea as it heads to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where huge state and federal pumps pull out supplies for the West Side districts.

The water will cost $100 per acre-foot, much more than what the OID and SSJID farmers pay but not unusual for drought-stressed districts on the West Side.

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.

Sun-Star reporter Joshua Emerson Smith contributed to this report.

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

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