The North San Joaquin Water Conservation District is looking to sell Mokelumne River water to the city of Lodi with the help of the Woodbridge Irrigation District. If the deal goes through, it could be a big boost for North San Joaquin, which has struggled with operational and political turmoil in recent years.
In a nutshell, here is how the deal would work:
North San Joaquin has a conditional water allotment from the Mokelumne of up to 20,000 acre-feet per year. It would look to sell some of that water to Lodi, which just finished a water treatment plant adjacent to the river. Plumbing for the deal would be provided by the Woodbridge Irrigation District, which already sells surface water to Lodi and has the needed infrastructure.
NSJWCD president Joe Petersen said the deal could provide some of the money needed for his district to build the pipes and canals they need to expand their customer base.
Selling to the city would also help prove to state water officials that North San Joaquin has realistic options to use or sell the water it is allotted, he said.
"Today it might not seem so important, but in 20 years it will have been extremely important to keep that water in our community," he said.
North San Joaquin does not have the ability to send their water to the city. For that, they need help from the Woodbridge Irrigation District, which holds the key to Lodi's pipes and canals through the Woodbridge Dam.
That district was not always willing to work with North San Joaquin. Years ago, North San Joaquin filed an application with the state water board to list the Woodbridge Dam as a point of diversion for their district. Directors did not ask WID for permission. As a result, WID filed a protest with the state board, effectively blocking North San Joaquin from accessing the dam.
With a new North San Joaquin board this year, WID has agreed to withdraw that protest and serve as the conveyor for this water sale to the city.
Andy Christensen, manager of the Woodbridge Irrigation District, says that this time the board leadership is different, and WID has control over where the water goes as well as the cost of conveying the water.
Members of the WID board of directors approved a draft letter at Thursday's meeting detailing a plan for North San Joaquin to sell water to the city, using the Woodbridge Dam as their gateway. Next, that letter will go to city staff, and later be considered by the Lodi City Council.
City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said the deal is not confirmed at this point.
"This is still at the staff level," he said. "My best guess is that the water would not flow until next winter."
The water would go through the Lodi Surface Water Treatment Plant, which the city dedicated on Nov. 2. The city is currently purchasing 6,000 acre-feet of Mokelumne River water per year from the Woodbridge Irrigation District, for $1.2 million a year.
The city relies heavily on groundwater, which is being depleted faster than it can be replenished. By using more surface water, the proposed deal might allow the groundwater basin to recharged, Schwabauer said.
City staff hopes the price of the surface water will be equal to the cost of pumping the same amount of water from the wells, making the project cost-neutral.
Lodi uses 20,000 acre-feet of water a year, equal to North San Joaquin's annual wet-year allowance when the East Bay Municipal Utility District has enough water to pass it along.
The final decision will not be made until North San Joaquin has confirmed its water supply for next season. Petersen says they get water about four years out of every seven.
The amount North San Joaquin may sell to the city totals less than 5,000 acre-feet of water.
Petersen said his district is willing to find a reasonable price.
"We're not going to ask constituents of Lodi to do anything silly," he said. "I'm just excited. There's a benefit for all involved. We are not interested in competing with WID; we want to work with them in delivering water."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.