Range cattle on Oakdale Irrigation District

Some in Oakdale Irrigation District are angry that they can no longer run unlimited amounts of surface water across their rangeland in this foothill region of Central California.

Water starts fire at Oakdale Irrigation District meeting

Water may be used to put out fires, but in Oakdale, Calif. it’s used to start them.

Perhaps Mark Twain had Oakdale in mind when he compared water to whiskey. This was certainly true the other day in this area of Stanislaus County, Calif.

Oakdale Irrigation District directors recently voted unanimously to give most of the farmers and ranchers they serve an additional six inches of surface irrigation water. For much of the district’s users that means they’ll receive 36 inches of Stanislaus River water this season.

This is significant since no other time in the 105-year history of the irrigation district has OID limited agricultural users of water.

According to an OID press release, growers were extremely upset that a large farming operation called Trinitas new to the irrigation district was getting any water at all. 

As explained by Tom Orvis, governmental relations director with the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, there seems to be some bad blood among some in the district over Trinitas, an investment group that owns 7,200 acres of almonds annexed into OID in 2013.

According to Orvis, who regularly attends OID meetings and is knowledgeable about Stanislaus County water issues, Trinitas paid to be annexed into the district. Part of the agreement makes Trinitas a “Tier 2” user of water, meaning its allocation this year will be 10 inches of surface irrigation, not the 36 inches “Tier 1” users will receive.

This apparently does not sit well with some ranchers in the area who, until this year, could run irrigation water across their rangeland.

OID is trying to balance a host of competing concerns and according to Orvis is doing a pretty good job. Aside from the drought and the regulatory favoritism that has pitted humans against fish, Orvis says OID is financially flush, due in part to decisions like the Trinitas annexation.

Some of the income the district has is being spent upgrading water delivery methods with new gates and meters which will allow the district to better manage its water. Earlier this year, the district heard from a firm that helped Australian farmers upgrade water infrastructure there to make the most efficient use of water during their last drought.

For OID growers, this should provide confidence so everyone will be fairly charged for their legitimate use of water, which in turn should better allow the district to do what it does best - providing a sustainable source of irrigation water to its customers.

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