Harrison succeeded his father Lawrence “Lodi” Harrison, who was instrumental in putting together original water usage contracts for farmers dating back to the 1940s.
Lodi Harrison oversaw the formation of 13 water districts that stretched from Vernalis along what would become the Delta-Mendota Canal to Santa Nella and the San Luis Reservoir.
Those districts oversaw the water rights to some 45,000 acres of farmland and 142,000 acre feet of annual water usage. Eleven of those districts would consolidate into one—the Del Puerto Water District.
Harrison took over where his father left off after Lodi’s retirement in 1978 and became a fixture and advocate for West Side water users. All told, the two Harrisons were at the helm for 65 years.
Harrison helped renegotiate the original water contracts his father had negotiated in the late 1940s and 1950s for water usage and the development of the Delta-Mendota Canal and federal water projects. Those renegotiations took 10 years to fulfill and culminated in ratification in 2005.
“Hopefully I’ve imparted most of my knowledge to Anthea,” Bill Harrison said Monday, March 3, after his retirement, noting he’ll always be a phone call away.
Hansen, who has been with the districts for 14 years said, “He’s been an integral part of the community for all of those years and he’s done a terrific job mentoring me and the staff.”
Bill Harrison grew up in Patterson, graduated from Patterson High School and attended Stanford University. He received a master’s degree in systematic and philosophical theology and planned to one day teach. Instead, the family business of water came calling.
“I eventually came back and started working for Dad,” he said. “I’ve always said my theological degree helped me pray for rain.”
Bill and his partner Stephanie will retire to Hawaii, which receives 100 inches of rain a year.
“I’ll try to send some of that rain over, if I can,” Harrison said, who plans to play golf and pick up a hobby or two.
If he could send some that rain, he would, Harrison said, who is retiring at an unprecedented time in West Side history with droughts leaving no water allocations for the year and the district and farmers scrambling to find water anywhere on the open market to sustain crops.
“We’ve been working on getting recycled water suitable for watering crops from Turlock and Modesto,” Harrison said, noting the infrastructure just isn’t in place to help offset this three year drought.
Right now the situation is not sustainable, he said, even with recent rains.
“Farmers have put in a lot of capitol and time developing orchards and a prolonged drought puts all of that in jeopardy.”
Hansen said she is prepared as can be, but no one could be prepared for a drought situation like the one California is currently experiencing.
“I think at some level you can have good policies and procedures in place to deal with a situation like this but at some point Mother Nature has to do her part,” Hansen said. “We will make it through this tough situation but it won’t be without some economic casualties. Its frustrating but it just makes me want to work harder for these farmers.”
Nick Rappley can be reached at email@example.com or 568-9975.