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Farmers see value in stronger alliance with city interests
Water master plan progress report before SSJID board Monday

For most of its 110 years of existence, scant attention has been paid to the South San Joaquin Irrigation District by residents in the cities of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon. As the district inches forward in its struggle with PG&E to leverage the benefits of its Tri-Dam Project investment to secure the retail electric distribution system within the district in an effort to reduce power costs 15 percent across the board compared to PG&E rates, some concern has been expressed by farmers that municipal concerns could one day overshadow agricultural interests on future SSJID governing boards. That’s because the cities constitute the overwhelming majority of district voters. Yet even though the SSJID currently is directly involved in storm water removal with all three cities and supplies treated surface water to Manteca (as well as Lathrop and Tracy that are outside the district), there has been little interest among city residents about running for the SSJID board. Four members — Dave Kamper, Bob Holmes, Ralph Roos, and Dave Kuil — of the current board are farmers. The fifth — John Holbrook — is a rural north Manteca resident who worked in the Stockton Municipal Utilities Department and the San Joaquin County flood control department. In order to get elected, all five board members have to secure support of Manteca voters. Manteca, with 81,450 residents, represents close to three quarters of the district’s population. Manteca municipal voters are split between the five districts and in at least three constitute the majority of the electorate. That apprehension of growers has been tempered in recent years as they see the importance of having strong municipal interest in what have emerged as common issues for cities and farmers in the district besides the desire to have less expensive electricity. The common ground is state efforts to commander superior and legally adjudicated water rights on the Stanislaus River watershed to kick up the salmon fish count by just 1,000 fish a year. In doing so, it will reduce water available for farming as well as urban use triggering agricultural production cuts and tighter municipal water use. A drought, under the state’s water plan that is being contested in court by the federal government along with SSJID and the Oakdale Irrigation District would be devastating to district farmers and would likely in a sustained drought cut outdoor watering to once a week if not banning it all together in Manteca. That’s because of another common area of concern — the state mandate for groundwater sustainability that means no more water can be pumped than is replenished in a given water year — would make increased ground water use virtually impossible. The growers’ concerns and conclusion having the municipalities even more plugged into the fight to protect the SSJID water rights on the Stanislaus River is part of the findings of the phase 1 work that CH2M Hill is conducting after being tasked with developing a water masterplan for the district. The SSJID board will receive a progress report on the firm’s work so far on the district water plan when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11011 East Highway 120. The board may also decide to formally adopt goals for the water master plan. Two grower forums conducted by an advisory committee that was formed to help create parameters for a water master plan ccame up with the additional following points: *Growers generally recognize water rates are low relative to other districts and they would be willing to pay more for water to fund an increased level of service for the water supply. *Division 9 growers south of Manteca and west of Ripon that have SSJID pressurized water delivery say they are pleased with the new system including frequency of irrigations, the ordering system, and access to water delivery data. *Growers outside Division 9 wanted improved service similar to the pressurized system but they understand there is a significant cost associated with going to such a system districtwide. They suggested a scaled down or hybrid pressurized system could be implemented elsewhere in the district. *A desire to have more frequent rotations of water delivery was a higher priority than having a pressurized system put in place. *There are mixed viewpoints as to whether SSJID should maintain the capability to deliver water for flood irrigation while implementing a pressurized system. It was noted flood irrigation helps remove salts that can render soil sterile as well as recharge the groundwater. *There is interest in recirculation and reuse of drain water — the water that ends up being spilled in to outlet canals and returned to the river because it wasn’t used during an irrigation run. *Growers want to see the Division 9 project’s positive public relations impact in terms of reducing water use and evaporation, increasing crop yield, allowing the use of less fertilizer, protection of the ground water, and elimination of the need for diesel fuel pumps that foul the air used to counter general attacks on agricultural use at the state level. *They also pushed for a goal to be incorporated in the water plan encompassing the theme “long-term water resource stewardship” and promoting the image of the SSJID and growers within the district. In talking with municipalities within the district the consultant indicated: *Cities voiced concern about the state water grab of Stanislaus River water, the increasing cost of wellhead treatment for ground water as opposed to treatment of surface water, and the importance of implementing the second phase of the South County Surface Water Treatment Plant Project. *The municipalities want to continue partnering with SSJID on storm water management and see the potential for cooperative re-use projects involving collected storm water. *They also see the potential of partnering with SSJID on groundwater recharge projects. To contact Dennis Wyatt, email