The idea of expanding Oakdale Irrigation District water deliveries into the Paulsell Valley has been kicked around for years. But if that’s going to happen, the farmers there are going to have to bear the entire cost.
That’s the message OID directors delivered Tuesday in their rejection of a $34,000 request to study expansion options. The 3-1 vote, with Director Al Bairos on the losing side, concerned a cost-sharing proposal by about 15 Stanislaus County landowners interested in buying OID’s surplus water.
Those farmers pump groundwater. If one of OID’s nearby irrigation canals could be extended, however, they could buy the district’s surplus surface water during nondrought years.
A study to figure out exactly how that could be done would cost $68,026. The farmers proposed splitting that tab with OID.
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“OID is going to benefit from this, as well as the growers,” said Dennis Wittchow, president of Agricultural Preservation Alliance, which represents about 40 growers in eastern Stanislaus outside any irrigation district. It includes about 15 Paulsell Valley landowners. “We’re interested in any way we can to substitute surface water for groundwater pumping.”
Wittchow said the Paulsell Valley farmers wanted a show of good faith from OID to indicate the district was serious about allowing them to annex if they paid to extend OID’s canal.
“The timing is right for OID to consider this,” urged Tom Orvis, the Farm Bureau’s governmental affairs director. Orvis noted that Gov. Jerry Brown signed laws Tuesday requiring sustainable groundwater practices. “The ability to use surface water in lieu of groundwater is the goal of Stanislaus County.”
OID almost always has more surface water than its farmers can use, so it usually sells that surplus to agencies outside the county – such as Fresno County’s Westlands Water District.
Barios said it would be better to sell that water to Paulsell Valley farms. “I see this as part of OID’s future going forward,” he said. “This project would keep water local and grow our local economy.”
Directors Steve Webb, Herman Doornenbal and Frank Clark balked at spending any OID money on the study.
“If that water is of value to them, they should put up the money,” said Doornenbal, objecting to investing in projects outside the district’s boundary.
Former OID director and Paulsell Valley landowner Louis Brichetto said he doesn’t understand the district’s reluctance to keep its surplus water in Stanislaus County.
“OID didn’t have a problem spending study money when it involved a San Francisco water sale,” Brichetto said. “There seems to be a strong OID motivation to sell water out of the area, which is a direct conflict with OID’s mission statement.”