A judge refused Thursday to reverse his April ruling requiring that the Oakdale Irrigation District study how groundwater levels might be affected if farmers fallow land and sell freed-up water elsewhere.
In unrelated news, Gary Osmundson gave notice that he’ll step down from the board next week, setting up the possibility of 2-2 tie votes with some issues on the often-divided board until a successor is appointed, or elected in November.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne’s ruling doesn’t mean anything because the fallowing program officially expired March 1, OID’s legal team argued.
“The program, in essence, is over,” attorney Valerie Kincaid said.
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Actually, the fallowing program – officially known as On-Farm Water Conservation – never got off the ground, although it has figured in two lawsuits and a failed recall attempt on another board member. Plaintiffs Robert Frobose and Louis Brichetto obtained a judge’s temporary halt early on, followed by Beauchesne’s April ruling requiring a detailed environmental impact report before transferring water.
Kincaid said there is no “broad public interest” in OID’s fallowing proposal, and said the district would simply start over with a new set of circumstances should leaders wish to revive it in the future.
Attorney Osha Meserve, representing the plaintiffs, noted OID’s “heavy-handed litigation tactics” in a warning against taking the district’s word. OID leaders, after all, had talked about fallowing lasting five years, Meserve said.
The judge sided with plaintiffs, saying the groundwater issue is “indisputably one of broad public interest ... in spite of a year of record rainfall,” in a tentative ruling issued before the hearing, which he affirmed Thursday.
Before the hearing, Beauchesne had ordered OID to reimburse the other side $10,090 in mostly copying costs, but on Thursday he wanted more time to think about it.
There has been some controversy. What we’ve done was well thought-out. There was nothing malicious and no ill intent, like some people speculate.
Gary Osmundson, OID board
Osmundson said this Tuesday’s board meeting will be his last. His family’s new home is outside the division he represents southwest of town, forcing him to step down. He’s moving into board member Linda Santos’ district and may challenge her when that seat comes up in a couple of years, he said.
“I like (serving),” Osmundson said. “Our water is something that’s worth fighting for.”
Santos and Gail Altieri have been on the short end of many 3-2 votes, with Osmundson, Steve Webb and Herman Doornenbal forming the majority. If the remaining four can’t agree on a replacement for Osmundson, voters would chose someone in November. The seats of Webb and Doornenbal will be up for election then too.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390