By Emerson Drake
Comparing our Board to theirs is an insult were the first words out of Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) Director Jack Alber’s mouth when I met him. I didn’t take offense, since to that point I hadn’t said anything, while it did show they were concerned about the public perception of them. But I will compare the experience of going to a OID meeting for the first time with their counterparts at the MID.
The Board room is in the back of the building and is between the sizes of the StanCoG and MID Board rooms. Everyone was friendly (although they didn’t have any coffee available) and you weren’t met by an armed guard the way you are at MID. The OID Directors sit on the right side and staff sits across on the left. Their attorney, Tim O’laughlin, is on the end sitting sidewise and closest to the public. At OID meetings O’Laughlin makes nice with all of the Directors, unlike the dour, impatient attitude he displays at MID (maybe because he lost his million dollar a year gig at MID?) There are about three rows of seats with a bench the width of the room in the rear.
The meeting started out amiably enough with O’Laughlin receiving a “revised hourly rate” on the consent calender (a public information request was made for the contract.) The meeting started to get interesting when a discussion of Trinitas LLC buying into the district came up. Trinitas is offering to pay $2,600 an acre to buy in and $60 per acre foot for water. On top of this their potential contract says they will be forced to pump water from their wells on dry years.
Apparently Trinitas has set the going rate for the buy in and for water rates for future farmers to join the District. An owner of Hofstra’s Dairy reminded the Board the proposed water sale amount is the same his farm is hoping to purchase and it is more beneficial if the water is kept locally. The Trinitas proposal was referred to LAFCO for approval.
The next question they wrestled with were their obligations on the Garr Pipeline. Somewhere in the past they assumed ownership of the Garr and now it needs extensive repair. It needs about $400,000 in repairs and generates $1,200 a year in income (but they don’t want me to compare the two districts boards.) This was sent to counsel (O’Laughlin) to see if it would set a legal precedent and just how far their potential liability goes. Needless to say in the past someone annexed a pig in a poke.
The Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance donation was next. OID used to donate $4,000 yearly but in these hard times has cut back to $2,000 a year. Now Bill Basset is looking for a four-year committment and the majority of the Board was unwilling to make it. Bassitt has already made a presentation to the OID Board but they were concerned about OID’s future and decided to make it one year and $2,000.
MID on the other hand is considering a $20,000 a year committment and Bassett hasn’t bothered to show up at their meetings to make a presentation. MID just loves to spend our money, ratepayer money.
Then came the headline discussion regard ing the potential water transfers(sales) to San Francisco. It was made known very quickly the Board had no information other than what they had read in the Bee. But that was somewhat disingenuous since Tim O’Laughlin had the proposal in his hands. They just wanted to keep the public in the dark for another two weeks. But having seen the ludicrous longtime binding contract MID was asked to sign, forewarned is forearmed.
During the discussion Denise Hanlan, a Oakdale resident addressed the Board and asked questions about the water table levels in Oakdale. In a move that would make Tom Van Groningen proud, Director Frank Clark gaveled her down. He pounded the sound block and mover onto the rostrum and finally progressed to his fist to silence her saying she was out-of-order. All she was doing was addressing an item on the agenda which is her right. Ms. Hanlan asked for a little civility but Director Clark wasn’t in the mood. Former Mayor Pat Kuhn suggested he might have been a little harsh and reminded the Directors they were only stewards of the resource and not the owners.
OID makes its money through wholesale electric sales from the Tri-Dam Project. They sell between $10 and $12 Million yearly depending on the price of electricity. Next year they expect to make $10 M and with a budget of approx. $12 M they will be using $2M from their reserves which will still leave them with more than $10M.
Here’s an interesting comparison. MID’s annual budget is about $440M mostly in electric costs. They keep aprox.$100M in reserve ever since their bankers started to complain about the low reserves and lowered their bond rating (MID has since raised their reserve level and the Bond community adjusted their rating upward.) OID on the other hand has $41.9M in reserve right now.
So MID has one-quarter of its budget in reserve and OID has almost four times its annual budget in reserve. Who is more fiscally responsible? OID. I don’t believe they’ll mind that comparison.
The bottom line is when it comes to the potential water sales it’s all in the contract and we’re going to have to wait and see just what it says. We’ll be visiting the OID again to follow-up on their decision.
There are several different stories in publications of the Modesto Bee and the Oakdale Leader and I’m going to give both addresses. But first I’m going to post a comment made in the Bee by Theorvii which provide the background details some might find interesting.
JUST THE FACTS – OID gets an allotment of 300KAF from New Melones – shares the first 600KAF into New Melones with SSJID. Take for instance this year – OID used approximately 233KAF of their 300KAF allotment – 67KAF remaining. OID has made efficiency improvements from their previous sales such as regulating reservoirs and the Rubicon system from Australia.
GM Steve Knell came from the Imperial Irrigation District where their water comes from the over-committed Colorado River System. He once said that IID conserved more water in one year then OID had allotted to them. Add Trinitas @ 25KAF and that number becomes 258KAF for this year. Still 42KAF remaining.
Unlike MID & TID who carry any excess over to the next year because they control the Don Pedro Dam, New Melones is a Federal dam controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation and the waterbank account goes to 0 (zero, zip, zilch, nada) on November 1 each year. All dams need to be at 70% capacity by November 30 to allow for flood control requirements by the Bureau of Reclamation. The FEDs can use the leftover 67KAF from this year any way they choose and OID has no recourse.
OID still has others “outside the district” that want to be annexed as well – it’s just now the price and conditions are a known entity. The Board said on Tuesday that they will consider those annexation requests as well and possibly move forward at LAFCO after February when they expect to go with Trinitas. They may incrementally “eat up” their excess water through annexation. MID & TID CANNOT annex because they are tapped out to capacity by the Raker Act. Otherwise they would have annexed the “Westside” of Stanislaus County – west of the San Joaquin River.
The one area of the county that is still in play is the Paulsell Valley – the east end of Claribel Rd., Warnerville Rd. and south of Dry Creek to Modesto Reservoir sandwiched between Crabtree Rd. and the Hazeldean/Tim Bell Rd. area. A lot of former rice ground and grazing lands converted to trees. Kind of a “No Man’s Land” between MID & OID.
The only other area asking is north of Woodward Reservoir and that could only be serviced potentially by Stockton East or SSJID via Little Johns Creek or Shirley Creek. Don’t expect it to happen – but those are the most likely scenarios. Rock Creek Water District does not have the capacity in Salt Springs Valley Reservoir or the conveyance south of Highway 4. One wild card for the northern part of the county is the Calaveras County Water District who has been sniffing around Salt Springs Valley using it as a conveyance for potential ag water into western Calaveras, northern Stanislaus or northeastern San Joaquin county. Still very much a concept on paper without the dollars behind it to make it a reality.
OID also has a plan – since 2008 – and they have followed it. That being said, Director Bairos also commented Tuesday that they will need to dip into their reserves for approximately $2 million in the 2013 calendar year to balance their budget. The key is that they actually do have a “reserve account” and have allocated money and water for a drought or rainy day – whichever connotation you want to use.
Not saying I support the proposals (Brisbane or the hypotheticals being thrown out on CCSF.) I am VERY well-versed on both the MID and OID proposals. Brisbane approached TID & MID before contacting OID and was rejected. I caution the public to not get the cart before the horse and wait until the facts come out. If it is the same enslaving contract as MID was considering, I have the utmost confidence that the OID Board will vote at least 3-2 to kill it with Alpers and Clark possibly supporting a sale. Clark is more likely to oppose then Alpers at this time. But Alpers is also not going to jeopardize the district for a couple of million dollars. STILL TOO MANY UNKNOWNS TO REALLY SPECULATE ON SF!
Also forgot – OID’s previous spills to MID used to be about 15KAF – their latest inventory was approximately 8KAF in 2012.