Bryan Pilkington may not be chairman of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District much longer.
After missing a second consecutive district meeting without notifying directors he would be absent, the remaining four directors voted 3-1 on Wednesday evening to consider appointing a new chairman at the next meeting. Director Marden Wilbur voted against the motion.
Pilkington’s possible removal as chairman was only one of multiple items discussed at a nearly four-hour meeting for the district. Delinquent groundwater charges, the status of multiple grants and the potential hiring of a new legal adviser were other topics the board addressed in front of a crowd of 40 at the Liberty Fire Station.
When one member of the public noted the meeting did not have a circus-like atmosphere like previous sessions, director Joe Petersen offered a theory as to why.
“The circus ringleader is not here,” he said.
The board moved closer to accepting one grant and walking away from another, but is no closer to deciding whether it will move forward in collecting money that is technically owed to it. While the board unanimously approved ending its CALFED project if it can retain control of infrastructure connected to it, and extending an offer to a Turlock attorney who will guide them through the Tracy Lakes project, it deadlocked on whether or not to send letters to district residents who are delinquent on groundwater charges.
Board members Petersen and Mark Beck voted in favor of the motion, while Hugh Scanlon and Marden Wilbur voted against. Scanlon and Wilbur were chided by audience members who felt they should have recused themselves from the vote because they owe the district money related to the charges. Scanlon owes the district less than $100, and a family trust in the name of Wilbur’s wife owes roughly $9,000.
“From what I just saw, I hope your insurance has good errors and omissions coverage,” said Bill Stokes, chairman of the Woodbridge Irrigation District. “If you owe back taxes, you guys just made huge mistake.”
CALFED project to end?
The district also will determine if it will walk away from a federal grant project designed to put water into the ground and then deposit it into the river in dry years.
Beck said the district can walk away from the Bureau of Reclamation’s grant without any hard feelings from the federal government, because the project was essentially a shot in the dark for both sides.
The board voted unanimously to end participation with the CALFED project if the district had confirmation in writing that it would retain control of the pump station, fish screen and point of diversion associated with the project.
The CALFED recharge project, located on the north side of the Mokelumne River, replenishes more than 1,000 acre-feet of groundwater annually, but most of that groundwater migrates to the north rapidly, Beck said. Continuing the project would mean the district would incur heavy pumping costs associated with the project.
The more suitable option, Beck said, is to give the earmarked funds — almost $150,000 — back to the government so they can distribute it to another grant project.
Legal counsel/Tracy Lakes project update
Directors announced they will offer the position of district’s legal counsel to Roger Masuda, of Turlock, today. If he accepts, Masuda will be asked to help the district pursue the Tracy Lakes grant with the Bureau of Reclamation.
The board also approved a motion to spend $3,500 pursuing the grant project.
The plan centers around farmers who would draw water from the temporary lake throughout the year, instead of pumping from the ground like they currently do. Proponents say it benefits everyone in the region because it would help the district keep its water right and reduce water being pumped from the ground. Growers and grant money would fund the construction of the infrastructure.
The federal government approved a $300,000 grant for the project in June, but the district needs to make final arrangements before accepting the funds.
Directors voted unanimously to send letters to San Joaquin County, Woodbridge Irrigation District, Stockton East Water District, East Bay Municipal Utilities District and the city of Lodi “respectfully inviting them to cooperate in the project.”
Board to reach out to public
While the district’s water right technically expired last year, it applied for an extension in December and can continue to operate as normal until the State Water Resources Control Board rules on its petition for extension.
One way the district can help maintain its water right, Petersen said, is to address the myriad of protests from individuals against its water right.
“We have petitions currently against our water right and we as a board need to look at those petitions and ask those people for help,” he said. “We need to tell them: ‘Your protests are standing in the way.’”
There are roughly 18 protests from private citizens, but many of them are canned statements that read exactly the same, he said. Pilkington is believed to have written up the statements and given them to constituents to sign.
Educating those protesters that the issues they complained about are no longer valid could go a long way towards rebuilding the district’s image and helping it retain its water right, Petersen said.
A common issue cited in the protests was the concept that district water could be sold to Stockton. Since the district amended its petition to keep water within district borders last year, the issue is no longer a valid argument, Petersen said.
The board voted unanimously to work together and approach constituents to remove their protests, providing that the district keep its place of use within its boundaries.
When the district voted to amend its petition and not sell water to Stockton, Pilkington was the only vote against the motion, even though he filed a protest with the state over the proposal to sell water to the city.
Scanlon also has a petition against the district with the state, but said he would remove his filing if the state gave him confirmation his issues were resolved.
The district’s next meeting is July 25 at 6 p.m. at the Lodi Public Library’s Community Room.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.