When the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors proposed selling water to San Francisco in 2013, it set off a firestorm of protest that led to sweeping changes in the leadership of the district. New board members were swept in, top management left, and even lead attorney Tim O’Laughlin moved on.
O’Laughlin now handles legal affairs for Oakdale Irrigation District, where a proposed sale to Westlands Water District was quashed earlier this year when attorneys hired by Oakdale farmer Louis Brichetto cited restrictions posed by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Now, two candidates have appeared to challenge incumbents Frank Clark and Al Bairos in the upcoming OID elections in November. Both candidates have been critical of OID’s business plan, which depends on selling water outside the district. Gail Altieri and Linda Santos released the following information over the weekend. For the benefit of our readers, we are printing both press releases in full.
Press Release from Gail Altieri
OAKDALE — Long-time rancher and educator Gail Altieri has entered the race to represent the Oakdale Irrigation District’s Division 1.
“I am committed to honesty, integrity and doing what’s right for the long-term benefit of our Oakdale, Knights Ferry and Valley Home communities,” Altieri said. “It is vital for OID directors to become more responsive to our region’s irrigation and drinking water needs.”
Altieri is particularly concerned about falling groundwater levels and OID’s continuing attempts to export water to out-of-area buyers.
“Our groundwater aquifers are declining, putting both our agriculture and our residential communities in jeopardy,” explained Altieri, who has lived in rural Oakdale for 36 years. “The OID must make better decisions to protect our groundwater reserves and to keep our surface water here locally.”
OID records show it has pumped more than 88,000 acre-feet of groundwater from local aquifers during the last decade, while at the same time selling 382,408 acre-feet of supposedly “surplus water” to outside agencies.
“Last year alone, OID pumped more than 5.5 billion gallons from our community’s groundwater reserves, and it continues pumping non-stop,” Altieri said. “Meanwhile, OID’s current directors keep negotiating behind closed doors to sell our water to San Francisco and elsewhere.”
Altieri wants to keep as much OID water as possible here to irrigate local farms and ranches. She also wants OID directors to be more open-minded, willing to listen and devoted to serving all constituents.
“We need fair, transparent and thoroughly discussed decisions — not secretive closed-door deals — to insure sustainability of our water resources,” Altieri said.
If elected Nov. 3, Altieri promised to “work hard to do what’s best for our entire community and to treat everyone with respect.”
“Please share your thoughts and concerns with me,” Altieri said. “I want to hear every point of view.”
Press Release from Linda Santos
OAKDALE — Linda Santos, an Oakdale cattle rancher and farmer, is seeking election to the Oakdale Irrigation District’s board of directors representing Division 4.
Santos said she felt compelled to enter the Nov. 3 race because the OID’s current leadership continues to ignore community concerns about how irrigation water is allocated.
“Rather than gambling on short-term profits generated by out-of-district water sales, OID must focus on the long-term sustainability of our irrigation water,” said Santos, whose family has lived in Stanislaus County more than 150 years. “We need to keep OID water here to benefit local agriculture and to recharge our groundwater aquifers.”
During the last decade, district records show OID has sold 382,408 acre-feet of water to out-of-area buyers, collecting more than $35.3 million.
OID’s 2015 budget called for selling an additional $3.9 million worth of water to outsiders. But a legal challenge by Oakdale farmers this February stopped those sales by insisting that OID first study the potentially significant environmental effects of exporting water.
OID directors, however, continue to privately negotiate water sales to outsiders. Santos noted how on Aug. 4 board members held a closed-door meeting to discuss the “price and terms” of selling water to San Francisco, the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and other outside water agencies.
“Directors need to open their meetings and make OID’s decision-making process more transparent,” Santos insisted. “Our entire community must be involved in these vital discussions about our water resources. Our agricultural heritage is at stake.”
Santos wants OID’s directors to be more responsive to the public’s concerns.
“OID directors must become good stewards of both surface water and groundwater so that plenty of both will be available for generations to come,” Santos stressed. “We must protect our access to water and establish sound irrigation management practices. Doing so requires strong, independent leadership by OID directors who are dedicated to doing what’s best for our entire community.”
Santos vowed to be accessible to the public, and she invited community members to contact her by emailing LindaSantosForOID@gmail.com and by visiting her online site at Facebook.com/LindaSantos4OID .