At least three of Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) directors seemed reluctant to pursue local water sales during their March 3 meeting. Though they had committed to develop a plan for delivering water to local buyers outside the district the last July, directors Herman Doornenbal, Brad DeBoer, and Tom Orvis seemed to be having second thoughts about following through on the program.
When audience members reminded the board some had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on infrastructure improvements to facilitate delivery of water they thought would soon be forthcoming, the directors still waffled. Their most common concern was that they might not have enough water to follow through on deliveries every year for five years.
Even though directors Gail Altieri and Linda Santos favored keeping OID surface water local, the other three directors seemed firmly committed to selling water to distant buyers, especially Westlands Water District, a regular customer for OID water. It now appears there may be another factor in OID’s reluctance to keep water sales within the district’s sphere of influence.
In a letter distributed just last month, the City of Brisbane solicited comments on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the “Brisbane Baylands Specific Plan.” The plan is for a proposed development, “of up to 2,200 residential and 7 million square feet of commercial use, along with acquisition of an annual water supply of 2,400 acre feet from the Oakdale Irrigation District.” The letter specifies that the review period for the notice is from February 20, 2020, until March 20, 2020.
Given the narrow time frame for comment and Brisbane’s confidence in acquiring OID water, it is very likely at least some OID board members were well aware of the proposed sale before the March 3 meeting. It’s also almost certain that directors Altieri and Santos were unaware of the proposal, as they would almost certainly have mentioned it while their fellow directors were expressing fears they wouldn’t have enough water to sell locally.
OID sales to the Bay Area would depend on a working arrangement with the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) to reroute OID water. MID has a connection with the Bay Area on the Tuolumne River. Without the connection, OID has no way of sending its water to Brisbane.
Six years ago, MID blocked an OID sale to Brisbane because it had not yet developed a policy for controversial water transfers. At the time, MID Director Nick Blom said such sales could become a reality in the near future. MID had tried to sell water to San Francisco in 2012, but dropped the idea under a firestorm of protest. The controversy ultimately drove some MID Directors out of office.
On March 10, in response to the City of Brisbane’s request for comments on the proposed EIR, MID Assistant General Manager John Davids wrote that the Notice of Preparation, “lacks sufficient detail,” for comment.
One “detail” that could stymie a water sale to Brisbane is the declining aquifer in and around Oakdale. Recent attempts by OID to sell water far outside the district have been stymied by litigation highlighting failures to address impacts on local groundwater. With groundwater levels continuing to drop, the district will have a hard time denying local farmers surface water while promoting sales to distant buyers, whether to the City of Brisbane or anywhere else.
But in a district content to flout the state’s standards for groundwater sustainability, the one consistent policy is to pursue water sales and damn the consequences. No one should be surprised if OID tries to broker yet another deal with a distant buyer, even one in the Bay Area.