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SSJID making a splash with jobs
Knife River Construction Project Engineer Randy Holtberg looks over the progress on the storage basin for the Division 9 project. - photo by HIME ROMERO

On his way to work every day South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields goes by a number of Knife River vehicles parked at restaurants and at gas stations on Ripon.

At any given time, the Stockton-based division of Knife River Constriction has 80 workers on the job.

The work force includes among its ranks a former mortgage broker who hit the bricks and found a construction job with the firm when the housing market went south.

“These are people who are working and supporting their families and not in the unemployment line,” Shields said.

Knife River workers are making the $14 million pressurized delivery system for Division 9 south of Manteca and west of Ripon possible. About 30 percent of the total cost is direct labor. That number doesn’t include the Southern California manufacturer that was kept running for three months to turn out the 24 miles of PVC pipe needed for the project nor the truckers that are hauling them northward.

The Division 9 work is just one of three projects now underway within the SSJID system. A third generator is being placed at Tulloch Reservoir at a cost of $27 million. Some 20 percent of that tab is for direct labor.

Ray’s Radio out of Modesto is performing work on a series of eight state-of-the-art microwave system towers to provide real time communication between the Nick DeGroot South County Surface Water Treatment Plant and the pipeline that serves the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. That $1 million project includes 20 percent direct labor.

All of that is in addition to regular maintenance season capital improvement work that the SSJID has accelerated to the point they are tripling what they are doing between irrigation seasons.

Shields noted that not only did the SSJID board made a conscious effort to help keep construction workers employed but they are also netting savings as material such as pipe have been acquired at as much as 30 percent below previous cost due to the sluggish economy triggering a severe drop in construction.

None of it would be possible, though without a decision nearly 60 years ago for the SSJID to join forces with the Oakdale Irrigation District to form the Tri-Dam Project hydroelectric and water storage system.

The SSJID is now generating as much as $18 million a year in “profits” from that partnership based on an independent study by a consulting firm hand-picked by PG&E as part of the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission review.

LAFCO is examining SSJID’s capability to deliver on its promise to lower retail rates across the board 15 percent below what PG&E charges. A decision is expected later this year.

The Tri-Dam proceeds are what will make the retail power system work.

“We will have the money to do that (deliver retail power at 15 percent below PG&E rates) as well as continue to make significant improvements to the irrigation system,” Shields said. “It isn’t either or. We can do both.”

The SSJID currently has 100 employees with an annual payroll of $1.5 million. No SSJID jobs will be lost due to any of the improvements.