A growth management panel has approved a major expansion of almond farming in Stanislaus County's eastern hills and grasslands, where cattle once grazed.
The Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission voted 5-0 on Wednesday evening to approve the Oakdale Irrigation District's request to annex 7,296 acres of land east of Oakdale and owned by Trinitas Partners LLC of Menlo Park.
Trinitas has planted hundreds of thousands of almond trees since 2009. Trinitas will have more than 820,000 trees once the planting is completed next year, according to OID documents filed with LAFCo and company officials.
The company has planted about 85 percent of its trees on the roughly 6,300 acres it will use for orchards. It has set aside more than 900 of its acres for environmental concerns. This land consists of such features as grasslands, creeks and seasonal wetlands.
The annexation is notable for two reasons:
It's another indicator of the prominent place of almonds in this agricultural county. Almonds made up about 22 percent of the county's $3.28 billion in farm revenues last year. There are more than 150,000 acres of almond trees in the county.
It's a boon for those who believe excess water should stay here and help agriculture. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau sent LAFCo a letter supporting the annexation.
Trinitas is paying the OID $2,600 per acre to annex into the irrigation district. It will pay that over 20 years at 3 percent interest. That works out to annual payments of $1.26 million or more than $25 million over two decades.
The OID will use the money to maintain and modernize its facilities and infrastructure, such as its more than 330 miles of laterals, pipelines and tunnels, and two dozen production wells.
The OID has rights to as much as 300,000 acre-feet from the Stanislaus River each year, but district officials have said the actual use is about 220,000 to 230,000 acre-feet, leaving water for annexations and transfers.
Trinitas will have access to as much as 25,000 acre-feet annually from the OID, but it won't receive water during periods of peak demand or if the OID does not receive its full water allotment.
In those cases, Trinitas will pump water from its wells to irrigate its orchards, according to OID documents filed with LAFCo. But OID and Trinitas officials said they are confident there will be sufficient OID water for Trinitas without harming the OID's existing customers.
LAFCo Chairman Bill O'Brien praised the OID for pursuing the annexation because it keeps water in the county, puts more ag land into production and limits the amount of water taken out of the ground from wells, which is a concern for many.
"I want to applaud OID for moving forward ," said O'Brien, who also serves on the county Board of Supervisors.
LAFCo's staff recommended approving the annexation after finding it would not have major impacts on water supplies or other concerns. The OID board in April approved the terms of the deal with Trinitas.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.