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Big decisions coming up to save water, reduce costs

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POSTED October 11, 2016 12:33 a.m.

Dale Kuil knows most Manteca city residents don’t give much thought to the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
That despite the fact for more than a decade the SSJID has been delivering high quality treated surface water to the city that ultimately flows through their taps. SSJID has also for more than 50 years provided a cost-effective way for Manteca to dispose of storm run-off.
And just last month, the SSJID stepped up to share its expertise with the City of Manteca to make mandated storm system management improvements for $200,000 that would have cost municipal taxpayers $4.5 million otherwise.
Sometime in the next four years the chances are good, though, that city residents will be well aware of SSJID. That’s because Kuil and his fellow board members expect the court case involving the acquisition of PG&E facilities will finish winding its way through the court system.
Kuil is confident that SSJID when all is said and done will be able to cut electricity rates for Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon by 15 percent below what PG&E charges.
“That’s a solid number based on a number of studies we have seen,” said the SSJID Division 4 board member.
But like his other colleagues on the SSJID board, Kuil isn’t willing to 100 percent commit to going ahead until after a final price for buying the PG&E system is determined by the courts.
“We as a board haven’t made the final decision,” Kuil emphasized.
Numbers also point toward another major decision coming up in the next four years — pressurizing the entire SSJID irrigation delivery system. It has the  proven potential of significantly lowering water use by farmers and eliminating a significant amount of electricity needed to power pumps. And if the pressurized system in place in Division 9 south of Manteca  and west of Ripon is any indication, farmers will enjoy bigger yields and lower costs.
The preliminary numbers to pressurize the system are staggering. Engineers have put it at $200 million to $300 million. To make it work, the water saved would be sold to cover the cost of pressurization. It means SSJID is in a position to significantly cut water use for farming using cutting edge technology which will benefit other California farmers and urban users in need of water.
Going to a pressurized system would eliminate the need for tens of millions of dollars in upgrades to district facilities.
Kuil stressed there are a number of issues that still must be resolved such as the impact of a drastic reduction in flood irrigation and how it will effect  groundwater levels. At the same time. Kuil noted a pressurized system would eliminate the need for the SSJID to pump ground water as well.
A final decision — just like with acquiring PG&E service — won’t happen unless board members are presented an updated independent analysis showing the final numbers will make the endeavor work.
Kuil — who has served on the SSJID board for 12 years — noted the district has been making wise use of the Tri-Dam benefit to do everything from giving farmers the means to conserve water, protecting endangered fish on the Stanislaus River, delivering clean drinking water to cities, and keep irrigation water rates at the lowest possible cost allowed under California law. The Tri-Dam Project is a series of three dams and hydroelectric plants on the Stanislaus River that was built in the 1950s in partnership with the Oakdale Irrigation District. The power generated was sold to PG&E at a set price over 50 years to pay off the bonds floated to build the system. After the bonds were paid off, Tri-Dam was able to get current market rates for the power generated. It has gone as high as $24 million in net income in  some years giving SSJID $12 million as its share of the Tri-Dam benefit.
That money allowed SSJID during the Great Recession to do five years’ worth of capital improvement projects — primarily replacing pipelines, lining canals, and such — over a two-year period. And because firms were struggling to secure work, the district was able to have the work done at almost half the cost while putting construction crews back to work.
Among the other district accomplishments during the past four years are:
uestablishment of a drought management program.
ueffectively defending water rights crucial to farm and urban users against state and federal efforts to undermine them.
uimproved and enhanced the surface water treatment plant.
ucompleted the $14 million Division 9 delivery system that saves 12,500 acre feet of water a year and eliminating groundwater pumping. It has been recognized as the most sophisticated irrigation system in the nation.
During Kuil’s tenure on the board, the SSJID licensed and built a new microwave communication system that replaced an antiquated communication system while enhancing security and safety when it comes to water being piped from the treatment plant to Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy. The system is still recognized as the most advanced of an irrigation district in California.
SSJID also worked with Stanislaus County to replace sanitary facilities, boat ramps, and concession facilities at Woodward Reservoir.
The district through Tri-Dam also expanded and modernized hydro-electric generation creating as much as an additional 15 megawatts of renewable energy every year.
Division 4 boundaries run along the Union Pacific tracks in the east before veering south along Locust Avenue and then east to Main Street. From there Main Street forms the eastern boundary as it heads south to a point just below developed urban areas in south Manteca before turning east again.  Highway 99 serves as the eastern boundary to Jack Tone Road in Ripon. It then goes south along Jack Tone Road before heading west along Main Street/West Ripon Road. It then runs south at Austin Road.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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