San Francisco seeking to buy water from Oakdale Irrigation District

jholland@modbee.com
gstapley@modbee.com
November 15, 2012 

— Two months after the Modesto Irrigation District dropped a controversial proposal to sell water to San Francisco, the city has turned to a potential neighboring source: the Oakdale Irrigation District.

The city seeks an initial sale of 2,240 acre-feet, the same as with the MID, said Steven Ritchie, assistant general manager for the water enterprise at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The asking price has not been determined, but Ritchie said Thursday that the $700 offered to the MID for each acre-foot shows that the city will "pay a premium" for water.

OID leaders will approach negotiations with an open mind, said board member Frank Clark.

"Of primary importance to me is that we don't stumble like MID did," Clark said. "Everyone will have the opportunity to know what's going on. We've got to be out front with it — no hanky panky."

The MID drew scorn when it became apparent that officials had discussed a deal with San Francisco for several months before the proposal was made public.

Allen Short, the MID's general manager, announced his Dec. 31 retirement a few weeks after the proposed deal fell apart.

San Francisco wants OID water in dry years and the amount could not be subject to reduction, Ritchie said.

That clause in the MID proposal drew protest from farmers and the city of Modesto, which gets treated Tuolumne River water from the district.

"Those needs on our part have not changed," Ritchie said. "This is a way of potentially filling those needs."

The MID proposal could have involved an additional 25,000 acre-feet that the district planned to free up with conservation projects on its canal system. Ritchie said the city could seek a substantial amount from the OID but does not yet know what is possible.

MID cooperation would be needed

Until recently, the OID had sold 41,000 acre-feet to buyers for about $3.8 million a year, but could not transfer nearly that amount to San Francisco, said Steve Knell, the OID's general manager. That's because no canal or pipe links the OID's Stanislaus River-based system to San Francisco's, which is connected to the Tuolumne River.

In fact, any deal likely would require credit-exchange cooperation from none other than the MID, whose system abuts the others'. The OID would deliver a certain amount to the MID, freeing up an equal amount of Tuolumne water that would be carried to the Bay Area via the Hetch Hetchy system. Owners of all these waterworks would have to agree to the arrangement.

"That we were unable to engage San Francisco in a sale of water is a fact and we're moving on," said Tom Van Groningen, MID board chairman. "If others can develop some kind of arrangement and they need some kind of relationship with us, we will have to look at that."

The OID board plans to discuss the matter Tuesday in both open and closed sessions. Potential terms — price and amount — would be discussed behind closed doors only if the board is willing to consider negotiating, Knell said.

Now that the Oakdale district no longer sells water to Stockton-area domestic users and fishery flows in the lower Stanislaus, "we're looking for means to reinvest that water to new revenue streams," Knell said.

The OID also is in talks about selling water to the small Bay Area city of Brisbane, which gets its supply from Hetch Hetchy.

With no new money source, MID leaders this week created an advisory committee to suggest improvements to its water system and how to pay for them. News of San Francisco courting the OID won't change the MID's outlook, Van Groningen predicted.

"The board has made its decision," Van Groningen said.

The Oakdale Irrigation District board meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the district chamber, 1205 E. F St., Oakdale.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385. Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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