We should thank the Oakdale Irrigation District board of directors for how it went about approving a sale of 11,500 acre-feet of Stanislaus River water to the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, an umbrella group for 29 Valley water agencies.
Otherwise, we might not have known of the disregard these board members have for the public that employs them. We might not have realized just how far this board would go to hide its actions. We would have been lacking such a perfect example of why at least two members should be replaced on Nov. 3.
It’s not selling surplus water that disturbs us; OID has made many such water sales. And we don’t doubt the proceeds will be put to good use – though we’d rather the water stay in the region. What’s troubling is the way OID went about it.
Despite several opportunities to publicly discuss the sale, the district tried to hide it by taking a vote through a separate agency – the Tri-Dam Project.
Tri-Dam was set up in the 1920s so that OID and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District – both of which hold long-standing rights on the Stanislaus – could build Tulloch, Beardsley and Donnells dams. The project, which sells the hydropower generated at the dams, is governed by all five OID board members and all five SSJID board members.
The only mention of the sale is in an obscure Tri-Dam agenda item for the Aug. 20 meeting; it barely hints at a transfer. The only vote of OID directors to sell the water was while sitting as Tri-Dam board members. How does that work? The water doesn’t belong to Tri-Dam; it belongs to OID. If you look on Tri-Dam’s website, the only reference to “surplus” anything are instructions on how to bid for used pickup trucks.
All five of SSJID’s members on the Tri-Dam board also voted yes but later approved the sale in an open SSJID board meeting.
Word got out, so OID publicly announced its $5.75 million sale two days before the October Tri-Dam meeting, in Manteca last Thursday. At the meeting, OID made a presentation defending the sale so that “misconceptions” could be cleared up. The only thing it made clear was that OID’s board had been acting in secret. By keeping it hush-hush, no one else had an opportunity to express interest in the district’s surplus water or make a better offer.
Among the outraged were two people running to replace longtime incumbents. Gail Altieri, running against Frank Clark in Division 1, called it a perfect example of the board’s lack of transparency. Linda Santos, challenging Al Bairos Jr. in Division 4, said the action was taken to “circumvent those of us watching OID.”
They weren’t alone. Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini noted he’ll have “a hard time believing anything (OID’s board members) say anymore.”
OID bought an ad in Sunday’s Bee to explain the sale, noting OID is run like a business. We know that appeals to a lot of people. But OID is not a business; it is a public agency charged with protecting and enhancing the interests of all its residents – not a select few. As a public agency, it shouldn’t be trying to hide its actions from the public that owns it. It is unacceptable that any steps would be taken to keep voters in the dark by selling water under the banner of a different agency.
This sale shines a light on how OID’s board likes to operate – in the shadows.