Verbal altercations, people speaking out of turn and audience members sitting on the floor were common sights during a densely populated meeting for the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District board on Tuesday evening. The two-hour session featured several outbursts and ultimately ended before all items on the agenda were addressed. The board also decided to wait to approve its operating budget for 2011 until the next meeting.
Board chairman Bryan Pilkington was chastised by directors and audience members for not elaborating on his plans for surface water use and for voting against points of diversion that would enable the district to fill waterways he advocates putting water in. Pilkington challenged that district accounting records are too vague for him to offer more detail about his plans.
"I'm not an engineer; I'm not a geologist," Pilkington said to district general manager Ed Steffani. "Your information is vague; no one could do it."
But his response did not satisfy one the audience member.
"This is the same plan you presented at a candidate forum before you were elected," said Joe Valente, former president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau. "You wanted to overbear and talk over everyone else then, and what we would like to know is what your plan is now."
Pilkington responded that it was an issue for a later time and that all of the district's options need to be considered. The chairman was also questioned about his opposition to points of diversion that would enable the district to fill natural waterways.
In June 2007, the district petitioned to add two new points of diversion on the Mokelumne River. The decision on the district's request is still pending. Pilkington said he protested the points of diversion because he believed they wouldn't benefit the district. He feared they would be used to ship district water out of the area and could benefit the proposed Duck Creek Reservoir. The proposed reservoir is designed to be built in Pilkington's district, and he said he is fearful his voters could have parts of their land taken by eminent domain due to its construction.
Mel Lytle, water resources coordinator for San Joaquin County, said at the meeting the points of diversion Pilkington opposes have nothing to do with Duck Creek.
Ed Steffani attends meeting
Despite his insistence at the Dec. 7 meeting that he was finished serving the district, Steffani attended Tuesday's meeting.
"I wanted no harm to come to the district because of my selfish desire to retire," he said when asked why he showed up to the meeting. "I am retired, but I am helping out."
Steffani reported at the meeting the district was unable to deliver 3,000 acre-feet of water in 2010. If the district were able to use 3,000 acre-feet, it could impose an acreage charge and effectively double the district's operating budget.
He also reported the district put more than 1,000 acre-feet of water in the CAL FED Recharge Project, located on the north side of the Mokelumne River, in 2010. Steffani recommended that the district petition the state to increase the CAL FED recharge amount to 2,000 acre-feet a year.
Where the district goes from here
Cutting legal fees, possibly deferring the payment of bills to the county and working with other water districts are ideas board members said they need to consider. However, they cannot agree where to cut or what projects to explore.
Pilkington is firmly anti-tax and said he wanted to look toward grants for funding.
Lytle said that the district would have better chances at securing funding if it partnered with other water agencies, instead of going to the federal or state government by itself.
Postponing the budget approval
Towards the end of the meeting, the district's operating budget for the coming year was discussed. Steffani said that the district must either cut costs or look to collect delinquent fees assessed in 2007 and 2008 in order to have the money to function. According to Steffani, there are nine people who owe the district more than $5,000, and close to 1,700 who owe less than $5,000. He estimates that collecting delinquent charges could bring $400,000 to the district.
The board did not take any action on his suggestion.
Steffani also said the district should look to defer payment to the county for costs related to the recent elections because the district cannot afford to pay it.
Director Joe Petersen made a motion to delay approving the budget until the district received an answer on how much it would cost in fees and penalties to defer payment. The motion was approved, and Petersen said the district also needs to have more project items proposed on its budget.
"We need to show the state we are serious," he said.
The meeting was forced to end early because the district only had the library's community room available until 8:30 p.m. Agenda items that weren't addressed during the meeting — such as a proposal to use district water at Tracy Lake and determining a process to replace the outgoing Steffani — will be rolled over into the next session.
Pilkington said he wanted to schedule a meeting within the next 30 days, but no date has been made official.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.