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OID proposes fallowing farmland, selling water to outside agencies

A plan to sell the water saved by fallowing Oakdale farmland will be voted on Tuesday by the Oakdale Irrigation District.

Some of the money received from selling that water would go to farmers to make “conservation improvements” on their land.

OID’s board of directors also will consider approving its 2015 budget, which includes selling $4 million worth of irrigation water to outside agencies. The proposed budget projects the district will end next year with $43.6 million in reserves.

Directors also will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss the “price and terms” of selling Oakdale water to the Westlands Water District, the Stockton East Water District, Paulsell Valley landowners and various “federal and state water contractors.”

The land-fallowing proposal could provide a financial windfall to farmers who volunteer to idle their land so the water they normally use could be transferred elsewhere.

Example: The owner of a 100-acre pasture could be paid an estimated $30,000 “as a cash incentive” plus $112,500 to use implementing a water conservation project, according to OID.

Among the projects that could qualify for that extra cash would be “land conversions to low-water-use crops or high-efficiency irrigation systems,” along with “land renovations such as ripping, laser leveling and reseeding.”

So, that money could be used to convert open pasture land into almond orchards with micro-drip or micro-sprinkler systems. Such orchards use less water than open pastures.

The district said other authorized uses for those funds would include “installing volumetric meters and gates, replacing open ditches with pipelines, replacing old and leaking pipelines with new plastic pipelines, installing tail-water return systems.”

During the year their land would be fallowed, farmers wouldn’t be allowed to irrigate with any source of water.

OID expects to be able to sell the saved water for $300 or more per acre-foot. This year because of the drought, some water districts such as Westlands paid more than $1,000 per acre-foot for water to irrigate.

OID – which both pumps groundwater and gets surface water from Sierra snowmelt – also proposes selling “surplus water” during 2014.

“During a normal water year, of the 300,000 acre-feet (of surface water OID gets), approximately 260,000 acre-feet will be needed for normal operations,” the district’s staff report explains. “The 40,000 difference is OID’s surplus water that will be marketed for transfer.”

So far this year, OID also has pumped about 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater from Oakdale aquifers. The report does not mention whether the district plans to continue pumping the community’s groundwater while it sells its “surplus water.”

The 2015 budget being considered for approval includes about $18.3 million in revenues, $15.7 million in operating and nonoperating expenses, and $43.6 million in reserves.

The OID board meets at 9 a.m. at the district office, 1205 East F St., Oakdale.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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