“It’s almost like you live in Fairyland,” said Steve Knell last Thursday in a meeting in the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) boardroom. Knell is the district’s General Manager. He was responding to repeated queries from farmer Bob Frobose about OID’s apparent willingness to deliver water to Trinitas Partners while cutting back allotments for farmers with more senior water rights.
Trinitas Partners, a consortium of investors led by three Bay Area realtors, was annexed into the OID in 2013. At the time, local farmers were told Trinitas would be allotted “Tier 2” water. The assumption was that senior members of the district would receive their water ahead of Tier 2 customers.
When OID decided to deliver Tier 2 water to Trinitas even while lowering allocations for more senior customers, all hell broke loose. Thursday, Frobose claimed to have thirty pages of signatures protesting the action, and promised there would be more to come.
“You lied,” said Frobose when Knell said Frobose and other farmers didn’t understand OID’s position. “How can we trust anything you say after you lied?”
The verbal exchanges between Knell and Frobose offered a classic example of effects of our new water realities: Today, when one party gets water, another has to give it up.
Knell insisted that delivering water to Trinitas was good for the entire district. “I’m more worried about our financial condition than I am about the drought,” he said. Knell said that OID would be drawing $10,000,000 from reserves this year and drew $7,000,000 last year.
“You’re getting your water for free,” he said to Frobose and other farmers in the room. “We’re subsidizing your water. The more water Trinitas takes now, the less debt for OID.”
Knell thinks local farmers are simply obtuse when they don’t agree with his reasoning. This week’s “Fairyland” remark was preceded by a comment two weeks ago that called those protesting OID policy “myopic.”
When Trinitas was taken into the district, its principal owners agreed to pay $55 an acre foot for OID water. In today’s water market, that sounds like water for free, but OID’s senior customers pay a flat rate of $27 per acre―that’s right, they pay by the acre, not by the acre foot of water. It does amount to free water when delivery costs are accounted for.*
One audience member voiced the thoughts of many Oakdale farmers when he said OID water is too cheap. “Lots of farmers were waiting to be annexed before Trinitas,” he said, “and they’re willing to pay a lot more for their water.”
But both Steve Knell and Trinitas senior partner Ryon Paton insist that what’s good for Trinitas is good for everyone.
“Because Trinitas pays more for water than anyone else, its arrangement is ‘good for OID, good for the community and good for us,’ Paton said recently.”
To many farmers, both Knell and Paton seem arrogant in their assumptions about Trinitas’ contributions to the general welfare. They’re skeptical when told that less water for them and more for Trinitas is good for everybody.
The farmers may have a point. In academic circles, the kind of reasoning that assumes that what is good for one member of a group is good for the whole group has a formal name―it’s called the Fallacy of Composition. Oakdale farmers have a more colorful term: They’re calling it “bullshit.”
*On April 21, OID added a $6.10 per acre surcharge for water
Next: The District’s Water Math