Oakdale Irrigation District board to discuss water sale to San Francisco users

jholland@modbee.comSeptember 1, 2013 

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

— San Francisco has sketched out a possible water purchase from the Oakdale Irrigation District next year, and other buyers could follow if the drought continues.

The OID board on Tuesday will discuss a draft contract under which San Francisco would get as much as 2,240 acre-feet, about 1 percent of the district's annual draw from the Stanislaus River.

The city would pay $112,000 if it decides by Feb. 1 to take the water, which works out to $50 per acre-foot.

San Francisco sought the same amount of water from the Modesto Irrigation District, which, like the city, taps the Tuolumne River. The MID board dropped the idea last year after protest from people concerned about the long contract term and possible effects on Modesto-area farmers and domestic users during drought.

The OID has had an easier time with water transfers. This spring, it sold about 40,000 acre-feet to drought-stressed districts on the West Side. It is negotiating a long-term transfer with the Bay Area city of Brisbane and has a history of water sales to Stockton-area domestic users and the federal government, which uses it to boost fishery flows in the lower Stanislaus.

OID General Manager Steve Knell said last week that several agencies could seek to buy water if the drought goes into a third year.

They include the MID and Turlock Irrigation District, which also draws from the Tuolumne. Other possibilities are the California Department of Water Resources, which supplies parts of the state; the Westlands Water District, the largest of the West Side districts facing the toughest of the federal irrigation cutbacks; the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, which includes several irrigation districts from the Tracy area to western Fresno County; and the Stockton users.

The OID has water to sell thanks to past conservation efforts and development of some of its farmland. The income has kept rates low for district farmers and paid for major upgrades to the canal system.

The OID has been talking since last year with San Francisco, which supplies about 2.6 million people in four Bay Area counties via the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

A staff report noted that San Francisco officials have had to turn their attention away from the 2014 proposal because of the Rim fire, which has burned near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Should a deal be reached, the OID would not deliver its own water to the city. Instead, the MID would have to agree to take an equal amount through an existing connection with the Oakdale district, then let San Francisco take extra Tuolumne water.

The OID board also will discuss a proposed program that would pay district farmers to conserve more water on their land.

The 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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