Oakdale Irrigation District weighs Paulsell Valley study

jnsbranti@modbee.comApril 15, 2014 

— A feasibility study is being considered to determine what it would take to provide Oakdale Irrigation District water to farmers in eastern Stanislaus County’s Paulsell Valley.

OID managers held an invitation-only meeting with Paulsell landowners last week and expressed surprise so many of the farmers showed up. The farmers pump groundwater to irrigate their crops, and there are concerns that the proliferation of wells there is overdrafting Stanislaus’ aquifers.

But Paulsell farmers’ interest in buying OID surplus water may not be enough to convince the public irrigation district’s leaders to expand the canal system.

“For us, it’s all about making the right business decision,” OID General Manager Steve Knell said at Tuesday’s board of directors meeting. “We want a return on investment. Santa Claus is dead.”

Knell said the district needs to spend many millions of dollars upgrading its existing system. Unless it sells at least $8 million a year in surplus water to folks outside OID’s boundary, Knell said, “this district has very little to pay for capital improvements.”

Last year, OID made $40 million selling irrigation water to Fresno County’s Westlands Water District. During the past decade, out-of-county water sales have made OID more than $35 million.

Without those sales, Knell said, OID would have to raise water rates.

OID charges nearly the lowest irrigation rates in California. Farmers in the district pay $20 per year per acre for water, no matter how much of it they use.

Paulsell Valley farmers, however, would have to pay at least $100 per acre-foot of water, plus all the construction costs to get it there. So if its farmers used a typical 4 acre-feet of water for their almond trees, they would pay $400 per year to irrigate each acre.

Atop that water charge, Knell said, the Paulsell Valley landowners would have to pay for all the costs of enlarging and expanding canals, and every other expense – including the feasibility study.

“This is no cost to the district,” Knell told his directors. “It needs to be paid for by those landowners.”

Knell had prepared detailed spreadsheets showing how much water OID might be able to provide to Paulsell Valley and where it would come from. He presented that information to OID’s directors and briefly flashed it on a screen for those at the meeting to see, but Knell refused The Bee’s request for a copy of that information.

The proposed Paulsell Valley feasibility study is supposed to be discussed again at OID’s next meeting, scheduled for May 6.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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