September 1, 2014

Oakdale Irrigation District to hear proposals for fallowing farmland

Proposals for fallowing farmland within the Oakdale Irrigation District so the irrigation water saved can be sold elsewhere will be discussed Tuesday morning.

Proposals for fallowing farmland within the Oakdale Irrigation District so the irrigation water saved can be sold elsewhere will be discussed Tuesday morning.

Community objections derailed a similar OID fallowing plan in January. That proposal would have idled Oakdale farms to enable the district to sell water at high prices to drought-stricken farmers in the Southern San Joaquin Valley.

January’s plan included the idea to pay Oakdale pasture owners $1,440 per acre so the water that normally would irrigate their fields could be sold to Fresno County’s Westlands Water District.

Exactly what OID’s leaders are proposing this time has not been revealed. The meeting agenda says the district’s staff will present options for the board’s review during Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.

The new proposal could pay some OID landowners not to irrigate so water could be sold to other landowners. Whether those other landowners would be within the district or outside the area is not specified in the agenda.

After Tuesday’s presentation, OID General Manager Steve Knell is expected to recommend that the board direct his staff to develop “a framework for fallowing” land, possibly starting next year. That framework would have to be brought back to the board for final approval.

This summer, Knell has made numerous community presentations about how financially important it is for OID to sell irrigation water to buyers outside the region. During the past decade, the district has collected more than $35.3 million by selling 382,408 acre-feet of water to outsiders.

Even during this third year of drought, OID has had more surface water from Sierra snowmelt and rain runoff than its farmers have needed.

This year, it expects to use about 200,000 acre-feet of its 220,000 acre-foot allocation from New Melones Reservoir, plus an additional 15,000 acre-feet of groundwater OID pumped from the region’s aquifers.

But if the drought continues next year, OID’s allocation from New Melones could be severely reduced.

“One of the only options available to OID to avoid major crop loss and economic loss to its constituents from a worsening or prolonged drought is fallowing,” the OID staff report states.

Rather than paying landowners to fallow their pastures, other Stanislaus and Merced county irrigation districts this year opted to reduce water allocations to all their farmers.

The Turlock Irrigation District is providing only 20 inches of water per acre this year. The Modesto Irrigation District is providing 24 inches, and the Merced Irrigation District is providing 13 inches.

The Oakdale Irrigation District, however, does not measure or limit how much water its farmers can take out of the canals. Some pastures take 72 inches or more of water to irrigate each year.

OID also does not charge farmers based on how much water they consume. Landowners essentially are allowed to take all the water they want for $20 per year per acre.

That’s about the lowest-cost irrigation water in California.

The OID board meeting will start at 9 a.m. at the district’s office, 1205 E. F St., Oakdale.

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