How might losing a recent lawsuit affect all water sales contemplated by the Oakdale Irrigation District?
A sizable audience heard that question debated at Tuesday’s OID board meeting, the last held before a recall election for one board member concludes next week.
When a judge chastised OID for failing to do environmental studies related to its fallowing proposal, General Manager Steve Knell predicted dire consequences including having to spend much more money “on any project ... that has a potential to cause even the slightest of impacts.”
Attorney Tim O’Laughlin, who advises OID, also provided a written warning that the district could be sued if it moves forward with a March promise to sell some water to neighboring farmers just outside its boundaries.
Those are senseless overreactions, said those who won the fallowing lawsuit.
The judge had ruled that OID must study how shipping Stanislaus River water south of the San Joaquin Delta might affect the groundwater table here. Selling water to neighboring growers would only help the local water table, plaintiffs noted.
Besides, who would sue? No environmentalists or government agencies objected when OID first announced it would sell water to neighbors back in January 2016, and anyone hoping to sue should have done so before the statute of limitations expired in February 2016, said Osha Meserve, the attorney who won the fallowing lawsuit.
No one should be penalized because the district is not happy with the outcome (of the lawsuit).
Osha Meserve, prevailing attorney in fallowing lawsuit
“I don’t think you’re vulnerable,” she told the board. “No one should be penalized because the district is not happy with the outcome (of the lawsuit).”
Audience member Jamie Coston accused OID of “fear mongering” and questioned whether it was prompted by politics.
Before Meserve spoke, O’Laughlin softened his recommendation to the board, saying chances of getting sued were “fairly small” and outweighed by benefits to local buyers. But the judge’s ruling points up the wisdom in the idea of a more holistic approach to OID’s outside water sales, he said.
OID for years has relied heavily on selling water to wealthy buyers elsewhere, although not this year. Whether contracting with the highest bidder, or selling to neighbors, or annexing neighbors, or freeing up water by fallowing farmland – all might be covered by an environmental impact report associated with a comprehensive, long-range action plan, O’Laughlin said.
You can’t continue to address out-of-district sales on an ad-hoc basis.
Tim O’Laughlin, special counsel to OID
“The issue isn’t going away,” O’Laughlin said. “You can’t continue to address out-of-district sales on an ad-hoc basis.”
If board member Linda Santos is recalled Tuesday, she would be replaced by Nate Ludlow, the only candidate who signed up. He had seized on the fallowing ruling as a campaign issue.
The OID board also approved new boundaries for voting divisions. The redistricting move does not protect Gary Osmundson’s seat when he moves to a new home in a few weeks, meaning the composition of the deeply divided board could change if Santos prevails in the recall. If she doesn’t, Ludlow is expected to help the old guard retain control.
Many Division 4 voters – mostly southeast of town – may already have voted by mail, as ballots were sent late last month. Those who don’t vote by mail can cast ballots before 8 p.m. Tuesday at Life Community Church, 105 E. G St. in Oakdale.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390