Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bee's attack on Oakdale Irrigation District off base

For The Bee to have published an editorial (“So many ways to say OID is looking bad,” Feb. 22) with the tone and allegations directed against a public agency – without the benefit of one phone call to substantiate the board’s opinion – was done with purpose. The “why” will become apparent.

Groundwater pumping response: Last year; the third year of drought, we all pumped to survive. The Modesto Irrigation District pumped more than 60,000 acre-feet. TID, 21/2 times larger than MID, never published a number, but likely pumped more than 100,000 acre-feet. Oakdale Irrigation District, about the same size as MID, pumped 17,000 acre-feet – all of which stayed in the district.

Jack Alpers’ absence: Government Code Article 1, section 1770, covers absences by elected officials. You would think a newspaper would consult the law on this issue before rendering a misguided statement on Director Alpers’ extended absence and eventual resignation for health reasons. Jack Alpers was a great asset to OID for 14 years; he’ll be missed.

Lake Tulloch: The Bee chose not to mention the regulatory needs of the environment downstream of Lake Tulloch in its tirade regarding the draining of the reservoir. The only water rights holders to Tulloch are the two irrigation districts that built it (OID and South San Joaquin) and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, not adjacent homeowners. The money lost renting pontoon boats in the summer pales in comparison to the economic hit to the districts in lost hydroelectric power revenue.

Conservation program: OID would suggest The Bee research Water Code section 10608.48(c)(3), which requires that irrigation districts advance on-farm funding programs. The Bee’s negative focus on the method OID has chosen to comply with that law – and the end point for the water involved – is curious. The region that will benefit from the water is the same one The Bee highlighted in a three-page story Sunday about the drought’s devastation. And the investments made by OID’s customers will pay off for years to come.

Cost of water: OID is not an opportunistic gouger on the financial plight of others. The Bee seems to suggest we should be. Sorry, the price is the price. To correct The Bee, the purchaser is the San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority, not Westlands. The authority is a conglomerate of 29 water agencies all vying for acquired water. Del Puerto Irrigation District is a member agency and gets a proportionate share of any water that OID can get over there.

Private club: The “club members” negatively referenced by The Bee are OID customers whose land was bonded 100 years ago to pay for canals and dams that brought the water to the valley floor and allowed agriculture to flourish. No one else. Farmers paid that debt off with income from the blood and sweat of their labor. And it is these “members” today who spend millions of dollars each year to continue to protect their water rights for themselves.

And now we are to the real issue.

It is clear to those of us in the politics of water that The Bee’s editorial is not about OID; it’s about OID’s water. We are entering an era in which outsiders with no investment in OID’s assets now want what they never paid for – access to OID water. The Bee is stepping up the game for them by now advocating that the management of OID needs to change in order to get that done. That’s because those who currently sit on OID’s board recognize this power play and won’t let that happen – not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Steve Knell is general manager of Oakdale Irrigation District.


Oakdale Irrigation District has put its proposed sale of 8,000 acre-feet of water to San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority on hold until environmental issues can be examined. Also, the district will host a meeting on March 7 in Copperopolis to discuss the possibility of draining Lake Tulloch.

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