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Lathrop eyes joining SSJID
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LATHROP – Is there a Lathrop in South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s future jurisdiction?
Lathrop city officials have made public their intentions to go a-courting to SSJID purely for monetary reasons.

There are signs the SSJID may be amenable to such a mercenary courtship. But, as SSJID General Manager Jeffrey Shields explained it, Lathrop has to make the first move. That’s just the way the district was set up 100 years ago.

The district board’s position on all annexations has always been the same, Shields said.

“We’ll not annex unless we’re asked to. We don’t initiate annexations.”

“Lathrop would have to come to us,” not the other way around, concurred SSJID board member and former board chairman Dale Kuil.

And that would be just the initial step. What follows after the formal request for inclusion has been made official is a lot more complicated.

Just like annexing a property, the process would take months, Shields said.

If it’s simply an issue of being able to take advantage of in-district water rates, “that’s something our board would have to take a look at,” Shields explained.

That is precisely the motive behind Lathrop’s interest in SSJID. During the lengthy discussions over the recently approved three-year increases in monthly water rates for residents, council members instructed staff to look into every possible way that the city could reduce the financial burden on cash-strapped citizens. Interim City Manager Cary Keaten said the one thing that could “dramatically reduce” those rates would be the annexation of Lathrop into the irrigation district.

There’s a simple explanation to that. It’s the same rationale behind the City of Lathrop charging nonresidents a few dollars more for taking part in Parks and Recreation programs and classes, for example, than they charge residents.

Lathrop, along with Manteca and Tracy, are part of the SSJID-led South County Water Project which provides drinking water to residents in those incorporated cities. Each city paid millions of dollars for its corresponding share in the expenses involved, money that is then passed on to their respective consumers. In 2005, following the completion of the Nick C. DeGroot Water Treatment Plant at Woodward Reservoir, the project began supplying the clean drinking water to the three cities.

During the Lathrop council discussions over the water rates, it was pointed out that Manteca residents’ monthly water bills were a little bit less than their Lathrop counterparts’ due in part to Manteca’s lower SSJID fees. Manteca is enjoying the lower fees because it’s a member of the district, Keaten said. This is what spawned the discussion of Lathrop possibly joining SSJID.

The irrigation district would need to look into a number of issues to consider Lathrop’s request for annexation. For one thing, Shields said they would have to consider whether the rest of the district is interested in annexing Lathrop since “there’s not a lot of agricultural land left in Lathrop.”

Conversely, the residents of Lathrop may not want to be annexed to SSJID, he said.

However, since the district delivers domestic water to the city, Lathrop remains a “vibrant and viable partner, so we won’t dismiss the (annexation) idea out of hand. I’d take it to my board,” Shields said.

How expensive such an annexation would be, “I really do not know,” he said.

Neither is he sure of what the process would entail at this point. But like any other annexation, it would go before the San Joaquin County Local Annexation Formation Commission for approval, he said.
It’s not an impossible undertaking; it could be done, Shields added. It’s just a matter of meeting at a common ground. The district would want to “understand their interests and we’d want to share our interests with them,” he said.

Annexation is nothing new to the district.

“Occasionally, we’ve annexed some farm land,” Shields said.

When the district was formed in 1909, there were properties that were not included. Over the years, some of those properties have asked to be brought into the district. A case in point is an 80-acre property along French Camp Road which, for decades, was “surrounded by our service territory but since 1909 have watered themselves,” Shields explained.

Last year, that piece of property on French Camp Road petitioned to be annexed into the district and was approved.

“But we didn’t go to them, they came to us,” Shields said.

But that was not complicated at all since it’s a simple matter of agricultural land receiving irrigation water from the district. The case for Lathrop would be a bit more complicated.

SSJID currently covers approximately 72,000 acres, according to the district’s official web site.