Community Columns

Steve Knell: The water OID sells is not the water it pumps

Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell listens during special board meeting at OID office on F Street in Oakdale in January.
Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell listens during special board meeting at OID office on F Street in Oakdale in January. Modesto Bee file

If I have sugar in my pantry and flour in my cupboard, does that make me a baker? No.

But The Bee continues to assert that since the Oakdale Irrigation District pumps groundwater and sells surface water that makes it guilty of pumping and selling groundwater out of the county. It’s an unfortunate ignorance of our practices that seems to creep in and cloud many resource discussions we are engaged in locally.

In yet another attempt to educate the media and the public, I provide the following facts:

OID has a system of 24 deep wells that were installed in the 1940s and early 1950s to meet customer water demands where there are canal constriction points. The well system has the capacity to produce 2 percent to 4 percent of OID’s agricultural water demand in any given water year. That is a pittance compared to our neighbors, something The Bee continues to omit in any resource discussions.

In 1998, OID began transferring surplus surface water from the Stanislaus River to other districts as a means to protect that water under state law. All money received from these transfers goes into OID’s capital construction budget to rebuild and modernize its infrastructure and not unreasonably burden our constituents with higher-than-needed water rates.

Between 1998 and 2014, OID’s deep wells have pumped an average of 6,762 acre-feet of groundwater each year while doing water transfers. Let’s compare that to a similar time period with no water transfers in place. From 1981 to 1997, OID’s deep wells pumped an average of 8,513 acre-feet each year; from 1964 to 1980 – again, with no water transfers taking place – OID’s deep wells pumped an average of 10,827 acre-feet each year.

This shows that OID’s investments in conservation are allowing it to do more with less water. OID can’t be pumping and selling its groundwater, as the media asserts, and at the same time pumping less groundwater. .

As facts show, OID pumps less water from the aquifer than during any comparative period of time in its history. Yes, OID – like other irrigation districts in the Central Valley – may have had a high pumping year or two during the worst drought we have faced in 39 years. That is to be expected. But for The Bee to assert those high years are directly related to OID pumping and transferring this water out of the county is misleading and wrong.

Steve Knell is general manager of Oakdale Irrigation District


The Bee has reported Oakdale Irrigation District’s policy statements in the past. The Bee has also reported that OID transfers, or sells, water to other agencies. For example, in 2014 OID has pumped roughly 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater while storing surplus surface water in reservoirs. OID’s 2015 budget anticipates $4 million in out-of-area sales.