OID to discuss selling water to outside agencies during closed-door meeting

Oakdale Irrigation District directors will discuss options for selling water to out-of-county agencies Tuesday morning during a closed-door session.

OID will discuss the “price and terms” of water sales to the Westlands Water District, Stockton East Water District and “federal and state water contractors.”

How much water OID will have available to sell isn’t known, said General Manager Steve Knell. The feds will give the district a forecast in February based on the Sierra snowpack, he said.

Because of the drought, OID’s public discussions this year primarily have focused on its water conservation efforts, the possibility of having to furlough land to reduce irrigation demand next year and the need for increased groundwater pumping.

Numerous Stanislaus County farmers – such as those in the Paulsell Valley southeast of Oakdale – also have been asking to buy OID water, rather than continuing to pump groundwater. Negotiations between OID leaders and Paulsell farmers have been going on for months.

But there have been no public discussions about OID selling water to outside agencies since a proposal in January. That was when OID directors had scheduled private water sale negotiations with the Westlands Water District. That deal was scuttled after OID farmers and ranchers packed the boardroom to voice objections.

OID leadership in January considered a plan to fallow Oakdale pastures so the irrigation water saved could be sold to Fresno County’s Westlands district for something like $400 per acre-foot. After three years of drought, water prices have climbed much since then.

The OID is water rich compared with most California irrigation districts because of its century-old rights to Stanislaus River water and access to storage in New Melones Reservoir. OID also pumps groundwater, and this year doubled its normal pumping rate to about 17,000 acre-feet. As a result, OID this year didn’t have to use as much of its surface water. It now is storing that extra water in New Melones and its other reservoirs.

During the past decade, OID has sold 382,408 acre-feet of water outside its borders and collected more than $35.3million for it. Those sales have subsidized OID’s budget, enabling it to charge the district’s farmers among the lowest water rates in California.

Before any water sales can be finalized, state law requires OID to hold a public hearing.

OID’s closed-door talks will start after its regular public meeting. That meeting will start at 9 a.m. at OID headquarters, 1205 E. F St.