South San Joaquin Irrigation District approves water sale for Tuolumne County

02/11/2014 12:50 PM

05/02/2014 3:52 PM

A water sale to help Tuolumne County through its drought emergency won easy approval Tuesday from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board.

It voted 5-0 to sell 2,400 acre-feet, about 1 percent of its expected supply this year from the Stanislaus River, after hearing no objections from the public.

The water would be bought for $200 per acre-foot by the Rancheria Band of the Me-Wuk tribe, which owns the Chicken Ranch Casino in Jamestown, and distributed by the Tuolumne Utilities District.

The TUD board, which is concerned about running out of water by May, planned to vote Tuesday night on the arrangement. The outcome was not available.

The sale also needs approval from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Reservoir, and the California Department of Water Resources.

The sale would meet about 15 percent of the need in an area that has no water rights of its own, despite being the source of large amounts used in the San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area.

SSJID previously had turned down a $400-per-acre-foot sale this year to the Westlands Water District, west of Fresno, out of concern for its own farmers around Manteca, Ripon and Escalon.

The situation in Tuolumne County got its attention. The drought has reduced what TUD usually gets from Pinecrest Lake and Lyons Reservoir, which also lost water to helicopters fighting the Rim fire last year.

“We really are the last resort they have,” SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said.

The water would be pumped from New Melones to the Columbia-area portion of the TUD system. This agency’s 44,000 customers also are in Jamestown, Sonora, Tuolumne City and several communities along Highway 108.

SSJID is doing relatively well during the drought thanks to senior water rights and past conservation projects, but it is urging careful use after the expected start of the irrigation season in early March.

“Everybody needs to pay attention and get by with as little as possible,” board member Bob Holmes said.

Shields said the district likely will get about 225,000 acre-feet from New Melones this year, short of the 300,000 it can draw in a better year but enough to meet demand. The Oakdale Irrigation District has an equal entitlement and shares reservoirs and hydropower plants with SSJID.

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