West Side farmers to benefit from water agreement
Apr 05, 2013 | 2235 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the face of major cuts to their water supply, West Side farmers received good news this week after two irrigation districts agreed to sell Stanislaus River water that will be available to many local farm water districts.

Oakdale Irrigation District’s board of directors agreed Tuesday, April 2, to sell up to 40,000 acre-feet of river water to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the state Department of Water Resources. South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s board agreed to sell the same amount to those agencies on March 26.

The agreement will aid the water authority’s 29 agencies in the western San Joaquin Valley and San Benito and Santa Clara counties, including most irrigation districts on the West Side. The extra water comes during a critically dry year when West Side farmers have only been allowed to draw up to 20 percent of their full federal Central Valley Project water allotments from the Delta-Mendota Canal.

Bill Harrison, general manager of the Patterson-based Del Puerto Water District, which relies upon the CVP for the bulk of its water supply, said the agreements provide a bit of relief during a challenging year.

“We owe some thanks to people for some very creative and helpful thinking,” Harrison said.

Under the agreement, the water authority and state water resources department will pay $100 per acre-foot for water released from the Stanislaus River into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which will be accessed at a federal pumping plant near Tracy.

The extra water, which will be released via Goodwin Dam in Tuolomne County from April 8 through May 31, will also aid the migration of the threatened Central Valley steelhead and the fall-run Chinook salmon.

“It’s really a good transaction,” said Dan Nelson, executive manager of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. “It’s being done in a way that will benefit the fisheries and will benefit the water users as well.”

Oakdale Water District serves a portion of eastern Stanislaus County including Oakdale, Knights Ferry and Valley Home. SSJID serves the agricultural areas surrounding Ripon, Manteca and Escalon.

Both irrigation districts share special state-recognized rights to a combined 600,000 acre-feet of water from the Stanislaus River by virtue of pulling water from the river prior to 1914.

However, they only use a portion of that water each year. The Oakdale district and SSJID each could receive up to $4 million as a result of the recently approved water sales agreements.

Jeff Shields, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, said the agreement was a boon for all of the parties involved.

“It basically helps all of the agencies,” Shields said. “It certainly helps us.”

While Harrison said he was happy to see the agreement go through, he said the water will not be cheap.

In addition to the $100-per acre-foot charge being levied by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts, local irrigation districts will need to pay a contract rate to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a delivery fee to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. He estimates his district will be paying $200 per acre-foot when all is said and done.

While that’s far higher than the $57 per-acre-foot cost Del Puerto Water District normally pays for CVP water, it’s cheaper than the $275 per-acre foot it must pay to access water from a pool of additional supplies it maintains through other agreements.

Even with the additional boost, local irrigation districts will need to find extra water sources this year. Harrison expected that even with fallowing of crops this year, his district will need at least 75,000 acre-feet of water for the 40,000 acres it serves between Santa Nella and Vernalis. The district only expects to get 28,000-acre feet from the CVP this year, so it will have to make up the difference through other supplies.

This year's low CVP allocations result from low rainfall and restrictions to water pumping from the Delta in efforts to preserve the Delta smelt, an endangered fish.

Federal CVP water allocations for farmers south of the Delta vary greatly from year to year, as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must ensure that enough water is available to protect endangered fish such as the inch-long smelt and threatened salmon.

State officials eventually hope to resolve the situation through a proposed $14 billion project that would bore two 35-mile tunnels underneath the Delta to deliver water from Clarksburg, just southwest of Sacramento, to the pumping plant near Tracy that supplies the Patterson area with much of its agricultural water via the Delta-Mendota Canal.

The project, mentioned in a portion of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan that was released last month, aims to move water southward without endangering fish that are often sucked into Delta intake pumps.

As discussions about that plan are under way, farm water district representatives say they hope to see more reliability in their supply.

“As I always like to say, this is not a sustainable situation,” Harrison said.

• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com.

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