Two agreements were executed among Oakdale Irrigation District (“OID”), South San Joaquin Irrigation District (“SSJID”), San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (“SLDMWA”) and the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) for the purchase and release of water in New Melones Reservoir in 2016.
The first transaction, which was executed in the spring, involved the lease of 65,000 AF at a price of $300/AF. A second transaction was executed in the fall for 16,000 AF at a price of $250/AF.
The water was used to meet flow objectives on the San Joaquin River at Vernalis.
OID and SSJID have a settlement agreement that entitles them to up to 600,000 AF per year of inflow in New Melones Reservoir in recognition of their pre-1914 appropriative rights on the Stanislaus River. The Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”), however, can release the water from the reservoir to meet flow objectives regardless of whether the parties have a lease agreement in place. The agreements allow the districts to realize an economic benefit from the releases.
Payment obligations were split equally between SLDMWA and DWR, who paid for the actual flows that Reclamation released from Goodwin Dam in accordance with the pulse flow schedule under the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (“NMFS”) 2009 Biological Opinion on the long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.
Benefits of the released water were assigned 50/50 to Reclamation and DWR.
The transaction is categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) because it results in supplemental instream fishery flows. The pulse flow is intended to keep river temperatures cold enough for returning salmon.
Once the environmental objectives were met, the water was picked up by SLDMWA for irrigation use.
The agreements were similar to one executed in 2015 between the same parties. (For information on the 2015 agreement, see “OID and SSJID Sell Water for Stanislaus River Pulse Flow,” JOW November 2015).
The spring agreement also had terms that would have allowed for the additional lease of up to 10,000 AF from OID’s On-Farm Conservation Program. The program was designed as a pilot rotational fallowing and conservation incentive program that would have allowed for the fallowing of up to 3,000 acres. Conserved water would have been leased at a price of $400/AF—with 20% going to the participants, 75% to fund approved conservation practices, and 5% to OID’s administrative costs. The program, however, was challenged, and the court issued an injunction preventing OID from implementing it.
At issue was the district’s environmental study. After completing an initial study, OID issued a Negative Declaration for the one-year pilot program—meaning they found no evidence that the program would have a significant impact on the environment. Two landowners in the district believed that was false and argued that the OID needs to complete a full Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”), especially since pilot programs often precede something larger. In a ruling issued in January 2017, the court agreed that a Negative Declaration was not sufficient. The district must complete an EIR before it can implement the On-Farm Conservation Program.
OID General Manager Steve Knell called the decision “disappointing” and said the district is in the process of deciding what their next steps are.
Written by Marta L. Weismann