An agreement was 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 2018.
The agreement involved the lease of 62,618 AF at a price of $200/AF. The water was initially used to meet flow objectives on the San Joaquin River at Vernalis. Once the environmental objectives were met, the water was picked up by SLDMWA for irrigation use.
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.
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.
With the shared water rights and a long history of working together on transactions such as this, OID and SSJID have also undertaken a basin planning study. The study is intended to result in a “regional water resources basin plan for the Stanislaus River Basin (“Basin Plan”) to address anticipated regulatory and resource challenges, to protect water rights and support continued water use.” The anticipated challenges stem heavily from Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) implementation, which the districts expect will lead to greater competition for surface water sources.
OID General Manager Steve Knell said that the plan is intended to guide “our two Boards in making the best choices in how our surface water supplies can be allocated to the highest and best value for our constituents.”
Overall, the plan will address ongoing and increasing regulatory constraints, changing water demands, and climate-driven hydrologic changes, as well as a district-specific priorities and challenges. Both districts need to protect their water rights and fund infrastructure improvements. In addition, SSJID needs to identify and understand future surface water supply needs, and OID need to fund the cost of regulatory compliance. SSJID and OID believe that having a regional focus will help them meet those needs.
Written by Marta L. Weismann