The Oakdale Irrigation District will appeal a court ruling against a proposed water sale, following a board vote that shows no easing of recent tensions.
Directors voted 3-2 in closed session Tuesday to appeal last month’s decision requiring a detailed environmental study on the now-suspended sale of Stanislaus River water to distant farmers. A judge in Stanislaus Superior Court sided with plaintiffs concerned that the deal could lead to increased groundwater pumping in OID, among other effects.
Tuesday’s vote followed familiar lines, with Linda Santos and Gail Altieri voting against the appeal and Steve Webb, Gary Osmundson and Herman Doornenbal in favor.
The same division had prompted the three men to sue last year to bar Santos and Altieri from closed sessions on the water sale. Another judge blocked that move. Tuesday, the board majority rejected the women’s motion to dismiss the case against them.
The district has long sold surplus water to pay for canal system upgrades and keep its farmer rates low. The contested sale involved supplies that OID would have freed up by fallowing some of its acreage and investing in conservation projects. Drought-stressed districts on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley would have used the water.
The sale was challenged by former board member Louis Brichetto and OID customer Robert Frobose. They “are confident that the decision will be upheld in any appellate court,” Brichetto said by email Wednesday.
He urged OID to sell the river water to local users, which would help the district comply with a state mandate for sustainable well-pumping with a quarter-century.
“OID has the potential to be Stanislaus County’s crown jewel if they start working with adjoining water districts on the east side of Stanislaus County,” Brichetto said.
The California Environmental Quality Act spells out when and how studies should be done. OID did a “negative declaration” on the water sale rather than a detailed report. In the ruling, Judge Roger Beauchesne called it “a minimalistic work product which fails to meet the basic requirements of the law.”
OID General Manager Steve Knell, a long-time advocate for water transfers, said Wednesday that he agreed with the board majority.
“Having been involved in CEQA for a number of years and very involved in this case, filing an appeal is the correct recourse to be taken by the board,” he said.
John Holland: 209-578-2385