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Food trumps water fun

SSJID pulls plug on Woodward’s use, Stanislaus may lose $2M

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Food trumps water fun

Low water levels at Woodward Reservoir in 2009.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo


POSTED February 26, 2014 1:05 a.m.

Woodward Reservoir will remain at its current level for the foreseeable future. 

That means that unless a deluge of rain and snow pounds Northern California over the course of the next month, the closest reservoir to Manteca will be operating at its winter level until local water experts determine that it’s okay to start raising the level along the banks.

Last week the South San Joaquin Irrigation District issued a report outlining data that showed that when the reservoir is at its peak level, it loses more water to evaporation and seepage than when it is much lower. Keeping the flows down, according to a report prepared by SSJID Engineer Forrest Killingsworth, would save the district roughly 9,000 acre-feet of water. 

The issue needed to be discussed according to SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields, because the conservation fund that the agency has with the Bureau of Reclamation is currently forecasted to empty out by the end of the year. 

The decision – which came in a 4-1 vote by the district’s board of directors on Tuesday – will not only bar boating and swimming in the reservoir, but it’ll also effectively maroon the concessions and the facilities operated by the Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation Department. 

They will reevaluate the status of the matter when they meet again in April. 

Woodward, located just outside of Oakdale, serves as the final filling point for Stanislaus River water after it’s released from a diversion at Goodwin Dam. It serves as a holding station designed and implemented by farmers for irrigation purposes. 

And while SSJID board member Dave Kamper said that he feels for Stanislaus County and anything that the decision may cause – Woodward receipts comprise roughly $2 million worth of that county’s annual Parks and Recreation budget – he’s also conscious of the value of the water that’s retained there and how much that’s worth in the amount of crops it can help produce or maintain. 

“We’re talking about $6 million worth of water, and 400 or 500 acres worth of crops,” Kamper said. “That’s huge this year – and that’s not even mentioning what that’s going to be if those crops get water.”

Stanislaus County Assistant Executive Officer Keith Boggs pleaded with the board to at least consider raising the level above 192 to 195 feet in May to allow for “bodily contact.” Doing so, while it would cost the district water, would allow for the county operations to continue. 

And not even a carrot at the end of a stick was enough to overlook the value of what has quickly become California’s most sought-after commodity. 

When Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation Director Jami Aggers spoke she offered up a $250,000 “drought fee” to offset the money that would stem for seepage and evaporation as a result of keeping the reservoir at a level that would allow on-water recreational activities – at 202-feet or above. 

But Director John Holbrook quickly pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily a situation about money, but a resource that, once gone, simply can’t be replaced by writing a check. 

Director Ralph Roos was even more direct. 

“I don’t think that there’s a board member up here that wants to not let you run your service,” he said. “We’re all hoping for rain and snow.”

The district’s strategy isn’t going to be without risk. If there were to be a major rockslide or cave-in on the main supply channel that feeds water into Woodward Reservoir, water service could greatly be interrupted – perhaps halted completely – until a fix is completed. The district faced such an issue several years ago, and aging tunnels could expose vulnerabilities. 

The relationship between SSJID and Stanislaus County dates back more than 50 years. The two entities have entered into long-term contracts – one for 30 years and another for 25 – that open up the reservoir for valley residents looking to enjoy an outdoor experience close to home. SSJID has long been a partner with the Oakdale Irrigation District in various projects along the Stanislaus River (the Tri-Dam Project is a joint effort between the two) and Oakdale residents and businesses would likely see a reduction in the traffic during the summer months from travelers that pass through town or come in for supplies. 

According to Aggers, the operation currently employs six full-time employees and 12 seasonal workers. The loss of revenue would likely force the agency to reevaluate its programs. 

Director Robert Holmes cast the lone dissenting vote – wanting to mandate the level of water that each grower could take before committing to the option of keeping Woodward water levels as low as possible. 

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