There are bull’s-eyes, blind eyes and black eyes. Things happen in the blink of an eye but aren’t always what they appear, to which you can turn a blind eye to avoid getting a stick in the eye. You get the picture.
How many visual cliches are applicable to Oakdale Irrigation District and its myopic board of directors?
▪ Getting a black eye – As our awful drought stretched into a third year last spring, the district’s 21 pumps kept humming, extracting 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater. Meanwhile, several rural residents living near OID’s pumps (and likely others), saw their wells go dry. With vastly smaller pumps, they no longer had drinking or household water. Many complained bitterly, mostly to no avail.
▪ Turning a blind eye – Before he resigned this month, director Jack Alpers’ health kept him from attending a board meeting since last summer. The other directors have known of Alpers’ ill health for months. Now, some want to appoint a director to his seat while others feel that would give that person an advantage in an election. However Alpers is replaced, we hope the new director comes in with fresh eyes; they’re sorely needed.
▪ Here’s mud in your eye – If depriving a few dozen district residents of groundwater isn’t enough, in its meeting last week OID and its partner agency, South San Joaquin Irrigation District, notified residents of Lake Tulloch that the reservoir might have to be drained. Tulloch’s water might be needed to irrigate the fields and orchards of farmers from Ripon to Escalon to Oakdale.
That alarmed and outraged Tulloch homeowners, who have built a sizable community around the lake and depend on it for drinking and household water – though they have no votes in either district. After news of that possibility appeared in The Bee, Tulloch resident Jack Cox and roughly 50 of his fellow homeowners attended a Thursday meeting of the districts’ Tri-Dam Project, which runs Tulloch Dam.
“We had businesses, citizens, everybody,” said Cox, who was active in politics before retiring. “One guy, who owns South Shore Marina, said he spent $60,000 on two pontoon boats to rent out in the summer. What’s he going to do with them now?” asked Cox, who had a dozen similar examples.
▪ Dollars signs in their eyes – Drought be damned, OID negotiated a deal with San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority to send 8,000 acre-feet of “surplus” surface water to farmers 100 miles away. That’s about 2.6 billion gallons of water – or enough to cover the entire city of Oakdale 2 feet deep. The water will come from voluntarily fallowed fields, and most of the money will go directly to the farmers who will use most of it on water-related improvements, a laudable goal. But that water won’t grow crops or create jobs here. And one former board member has sent a threatening letter contesting the out-of-basin water sale.
▪ Pennies on their eyes – Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of the water deal with Westlands is that OID’s farmers will get only $400 an acre-foot. On Stanislaus County’s west side, barely 40 miles away, there are dozens of farmers who would gladly have paid double that. There are Westlands farmers already paying quadruple that price.
▪ I only have eyes for you – With all the above, it often appears Oakdale Irrigation District is being run like a private club, for the benefit of member farmers only. That’s inappropriate. Everyone who lives in the sprawling district has a stake in it and should derive some benefit.
If directors can’t see that, voters might well have roving eyes in the next election.