Oakdale Irrigation District considers expanding water deliveries to farms and homes

05/06/2014 7:10 PM

05/06/2014 11:00 PM

Oakdale Irrigation District water is a coveted commodity these days.

OID has agreed to annex 812 acres of additional agricultural land, and it is studying options for supplying surplus irrigation water to an additional 5,000 to 7,000 acres. A proposed housing development also wants OID to provide its domestic water supply.

The three expansion projects were discussed during Tuesday’s OID directors meeting, and plans for each are proceeding. The century-old district includes 79,840 acres surrounding Oakdale.

OID has agreed to annex seven more farms, including 220 acres owned by Wendell Naraghi, 430 acres owned by Hoekstra Dairy, and five parcels of 40 acres or less owned by Paul Dole, John Brichetto, Randy Paddack, Holly Moore and Robert Gilbert.

Those landowners were told Tuesday that they have until June 12 to pay $25,000 deposits each so the formal annexation process can proceed.

OID made its biggest annexation in July when it took in 7,296 acres owned by Trinitas Partners, a private equity investment company based in Menlo Park. Trinitas agreed to pay the district $2,600 per acre for the privilege. Trinitas will use OID’s water to irrigate about 820,000 recently planted almond trees.

Additional farmers in the Paulsell Valley east of Modesto also are interested in tapping into OID’s water supply, which primarily comes from Sierra snowmelt that flows down the Stanislaus River and gets stored in New Melones Reservoir.

OID directors on Tuesday agreed to initiate a conceptual engineering plan and cost estimates for serving portions of the Paulsell Valley. CH2M Hill, an international design and consulting firm, will prepare estimates for developing that plan.

“From an initial review, OID estimates that somewhere between 5,000 to 7,000 acres of agricultural land could be served with somewhere between 24 to 32 inches of water in most hydrologic year types,” OID General Manager Steve Knell told directors.

Knell said more water may be available in the future “as OID continues to implement its water resources plan, freeing up South Main Canal capacity through efficiency improvements.”

Lots of Stanislaus County farmers have expressed interest in buying OID water, rather than having to irrigate their crops with groundwater pumped from wells.

In previous years, OID has sold much of its excess water to out-of-county buyers, such as the Fresno County Westlands Water District, which bought 40,000 acre-feet for $4 million last year.

“We need options when we have excess water,” said Knell, noting that selling excess water to Paulsell Valley farmers may be a plausible alternative.

Director Frank Clark expressed interest in finding ways to get water to even more farmers in that valley – perhaps someday supplying water to 15,000 acres there.

“That may take some of the pressure off the groundwater,” Clark explained. Clark and others previously have voiced concerns about agricultural pumping overdrafting the region’s aquifers.

But Knell questioned the wisdom of providing much more water to the Paulsell Valley.

“The more water you bring out there, the more development there will be out there,” Knell predicted. “You could have this never-ending expansion.”

Besides agricultural water, OID also supplies some rural neighborhoods outside Oakdale with groundwater for domestic use. A proposed subdivision near the Oakdale Golf and Country Club wants to join that rural water system.

Developer Rich DePonte proposes creating 14 large residential lots near Stearns Road and Highway 120 for a rural community called Fairway 7 Estates. OID agreed to supply domestic water for those future homes if DePonte pays all the system connection costs plus a $215,474 buy-in fee.

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