Oakdale Irrigation District takes on update of rates, other charges

jnsbranti@modbee.comJuly 2, 2014 

The Oakdale Irrigation District provides its farmers about the cheapest water in California, and many of its other service charges haven’t increased in more than a decade.

OID’s board of directors took a step Wednesday toward updating and justifying what it charges customers for special services, and it will start tackling its overall water rate structure July 15.

OID bills farmers a flat annual rate for irrigation water, no matter how much they use. It ends up averaging about $5 per acre-foot of water, which is equal to about 653 gallons of water for one penny.

That rate is going to increase, and OID farmers – similar to those just about everywhere else in California – are going to start paying for water based on how much they use, rather than on a flat rate.

All of the other Northern San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts, including Modesto, Turlock, Merced, South San Joaquin and Patterson, already charge significantly more for water, based on the amount used.

OID’s proposed new rates have not been announced.

The publicly owned irrigation district has hired a consulting firm, CH2M Hill, to help it develop a justifiable rate structure.

It used that same consulting firm to calculate equitable prices for its other services, such as how much it should charge the public to copy a document: 25 cents per page, rather than the current 15 cents.

Board members approved most of the proposed new fee schedule Wednesday, including raising the district’s annexation fee by $300 to $2,900 per acre.

But Director Herman Doornenbal balked at the proposal to raise the cost of what OID charges farmers who want to rent the district’s wells to pump water onto their private land.

Only a couple dozen farmers typically take that option, but Doornenbal is one of them. OID’s pumping records show that Doornenbal has been among the biggest users of the district’s wells in recent years.

OID has been charging only $30 per acre-foot of water pumped for private purposes from the district’s well. Depending on which OID pump is used, that price doesn’t even cover the cost of the power needed to extract that water from the ground.

CH2M Hill recommended that OID start charging those who rent OID wells a $425 fee plus the actual cost of power to pump the groundwater. The consultant determined that the charge would be needed to compensate the district for its staff time and expenses.

“I think that’s a little high,” Doornenbal said about the proposed increase. “Some of us mainly use the pumps one or two nights a week … and sometimes we rent them after the water season is over if we want to water our trees.”

Because of Doornenbal’s objection, the pump rental fee was removed from the rate increase proposal. Board Chairman Steve Webb agreed to allow Doornenbal to discuss pump rental charges at a later subcommittee meeting. When that proposed fee increase will make its way back to the full board was not announced.

Doornanbal told The Modesto Bee that even though he rents OID wells and would be affected by any increase in pumping fees, he does not consider it a conflict of interest to use his position as a board member to alter the proposed fee structure.

“I have a lot of constituents that rent pumps,” Doornenbal said. He represents residents of OID’s division 2, which includes those in the far northwest corner of the district in San Joaquin County.

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

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