It’s a win-win-win deal.
Farmers hammered hard by the drought on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley get water.
Flows in the Stanislaus River will be adequate enough to sustain riparian environments and fish.
And the South San Joaquin Irrigation District will receive $9.75 million to help keep water costs down for Manteca, Ripon and Escalon farmers as well as have money to invest in measures to conserve water.
The deal between SSJID and its Tri-Dam Project partner Oakdale Irrigation District with the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority and the California Department of Water Resources for the purchase of release water was one of two water deals the SSJID board approved on March 22. The other was a deal that represents a temporary transfer of 10,000 acre feet from SSJID and OID to the Stockton East Water District. The OID and other agencies have yet to approve the agreements.
The San Luis deal involves 65,000 acre feet of water from SSJID-OID and 10,000 acre feet from the OID farmers’ conservation program. That water is being sold at $300 per acre foot. SSJID and OID each will receive $9.75 million while farmers in the OID program will receive $3 million.
The water being sold to Stockton is fetching $200 per acre foot. SSJID and OID will each receive $1 million.
SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk praised the Department of Water Resources for working diligently to make the deal work. The agreement avoided creating a confrontational situation. The state wants to increase flows on the Stanislaus River but lacks the water to do so. The San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority is in desperate need of water for its farmers.
During a normal year, 1.05 million acre feet flow into New Melones Reservoir from the Stanislaus River watershed. SSJID-OID has superior rights to the first 600,000 acre feet. After that 274,000 acre feet go to fish flows in the Stanislaus River, 148,000 acre feet for water quality, and 45,000 acre feet to Stockton East Water District while 66,000 acre feet is lost to evaporation. New Melones has a capacity of 2.4 million acre feet. It is currently only 24 percent full.
The only source of water that is at New Melones that isn’t already committed to fish flows or water quality release is held by SSJID and OID.
Initial posturing last year essentially had the state taking the position they would commandeer the water if need be. SSJID and OID countered that they had senior pre-1914 adjudicated water rights that legally trumped any state or federal claims. The SSJID made it clear if that happened they would go to court seeking civil damages and perhaps even criminal court to pursue charges of unlawful taking of property – namely the water the state would take from the SSJID without paying for it.
The state was able to secure an irrigation district to take the release water and be willing to pay for it. They also hammered out a release schedule that accommodated all parties. It essentially has gotten the state the water they want to increase flows without paying for it, the San Luis & Delta Water Authority water they were seeking, and kept SSJID whole without hurting irrigation deliveries.
The OID and SSJID also have a big stake in saving fish on the Stanislaus River. By protecting the fish they reduce the chances of federal action involving how water is released that could have an adverse impact on its growers. The two districts are by far the leading agencies when it comes to tending to Stanislaus River fish habitat spending more than $1 million annually.
SSJID has been able to use money from water sales to put in place major conservation initiatives that save even more water.
At the same time growers are enjoying rates that are among the lowest – if not the lowest – in the state. Part of the annual proceeds from the Tri-Dam Project also keeps water costs down.
Some farmers have questioned why they can’t have free water or even lower rates. State law requires a minimum charge plus there are legal issues with how the money can be spent.
That said, being able to fund aggressive water conservation projects by standards of a typical California irrigation district via the sale of water means the Tri-Dam revenues are a financial backstop for SSJID plans to purchase the PG&E retail system in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon and lower the rates by 15 percent. The district’s plan to do that currently doesn’t require using any Tri-Dam revenue to accomplish that goal. But thanks to water sales, it will be there in case, making the district’s financial model for lower power rates that much stronger.