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Walnut huller seeks SSJID water for fire protection

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POSTED May 27, 2014 1:13 a.m.

Walnut grower Chris Van Groningen is hoping the pressurized irrigation system installed by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District west of Ripon and south of Manteca could be tapped for fire suppression.

Van Groningen is seeking San Joaquin County permission to increase his walnut hulling and processing operations at 9851 Hutchinson Road. In order to gain approval, the Ripon Consolidated Fire District needs to have access to 1,500 gallons of water per minute.

Van Groningen is appearing before the SSJID board to explore the possibility of using the pressurized irrigation system to do double duty for fire suppression. The existing well on his property isn’t large enough to meet the fire district requirements. The board meets at 9 a.m. at the district office, 1001 East Highway 120.

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields noted that such a use of the pressurized system has never before been considered. He noted firefighters battling blazes in rural portions of the SSJID will often pump water from open canals to aid fire suppression efforts.

Some potential concerns would be whether the pressurized system would be fully charged with water year round to meet fire suppression needs.

There also could be issues with whether state law allows a district such as SSJID to essentially provide fire suppression services. Simply because the district stores and distributes water doesn’t automatically mean that California law will allow it to use that water for dedicated fire suppression purposes.

The SSJID, as an example, even though it has been generating and selling wholesale power for 60 years through the Tri-Dam Project, can’t automatically start distributing and selling electricity on a retail basis. That’s why its application to do just that in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon has been before the San Joaquin  County Local Agency Formation Commission now for 42 months.

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