The board of directors for the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District knows its options are limited.
The district’s infrastructure is battered. Its relationship with the public is strained. Its financial house is in disarray; it owes money to the county for elections and needs to drill extraction wells at a recharge project. The State Water Resources Control Board rapidly wants to know its plan for using the water it has a right to.
The board’s chairman, Bryan Pilkington, has been absent the last three meetings due to health concerns and none of the directors have been able to reach him for weeks.
As they discussed Pilkington’s absence with the public, several directors expressed disappointment in Pilkington.
“He is not fulfilling duties as leader of this board,” said board member Joe Petersen. “We have gutted this organization and the now mighty leader has walked away.”
Petersen was referring to general manager Ed Steffani and watermaster Pete Weinzheimer, who recently resigned after Pilkington became chairman. Weinzheimer and Steffani still provide some services for the district, but they are not paid and do not attend meetings.
Pilkington was defended by one of his supporters in the audience.
“I don’t believe he’s not here simply because he does not want to be here,” said Eli Tavarez.
Director Hugh Scanlon said he received a letter from Pilkington alluding to the health issues several weeks ago, but hasn’t had any contact with him since. Director Mark Beck said the issue isn’t if Pilkington has been ill, but rather that no one from the district has been able to reach him during that time.
“We want to know when he will be back to correspond,” Beck said.
Although the district can vote to replace Pilkington as chairman at any time, Petersen said it wasn’t something the district is currently considering.
Could Lodi be a customer?
Needing cash to fund repairs on decaying pipes and to back future projects, directors discussed selling Mokelumne River water to the city of Lodi at a public workshop Wednesday evening.
“We’ve got to sell water to get some revenue in here,” said board member Marden Wilbur. “Lodi is part of our district, maybe people won’t growl about selling water within our borders.”
Currently, the city of Lodi uses groundwater for 100 percent of municipal uses. That percentage will decline in the coming years when the Lodi Water Treatment Plant under construction near Lodi Lake is complete in spring 2012. Woodbridge Irrigation District has a deal with Lodi to use some of its water, but directors Scanlon and Petersen said North San Joaquin wants in on the action and wants to meet with City Attorney Steve Schwabauer in the coming days to gauge the city’s interest.
While the city would not be able to take any water from the district in 2011 because the plant won’t be completed, directors said they would like to set something up for 2012 and beyond.
If the city were to agree to a deal, the district would have to provide a point of diversion or arrange to use WID’s.
If the district could not arrange an agreement with WID, it would have to develop its own point of diversion.
The district had a planned point of diversion that could be suitable when it flirted with selling water to Stockton several years ago, but it was done away with after public backlash. Since the application is still logged with the State Water Resources Control Board, the process could easily be restarted but would cost thousands of dollars, said Karna Harrigfeld, legal counsel for the district.
State agency wants plans
The district also needs to prove itself to the State Water Resources Control Board in order to maintain its wet-year water right of 20,000 acre-feet. The state board wants an updated plan from the district by early March.
The last time the district offered the agency a plan for projects and goals, the finances for it hinged on the passage of Measure C. When the measure, which would have charged groundwater users for pumping, was struck down by a 2-to-1 margin last year, the district found its plans obsolete. Repairing the southern pipeline, pursuing the grant for Tracy Lake and possibly selling water to Lodi are all items that will be included in the district’s revised plan.
At its last meeting, directors approved a motion to apply for a grant that could be used to let area growers fill Tracy Lake and draw water from it. While each board member has reservations with the potential project, they approved applying for the grant because the district has no obligation to move forward with it — even if they receive the grant.
The board also discussed projects that could enable it to pump water as soon as possible at the workshop. Besides considering selling water to the city, the board discussed repairing the district’s southern pipeline.
“We’re doing what we can with what we’ve got,” said Petersen.
Since the southern pipeline has a pump and screen ready for use, Scanlon said it makes sense to pursue repairing that pipeline first. While estimates on pipe repairs are roughly $30,000, Scanlon said the district look to would compare bids with multiple companies to get the best deal. The pipe could be repaired and in use this year if funds are available.
The district’s north pipeline is also in need of repairs, but Scanlon said the southern line should be the priority because less needs to be done.
While the district does not have much money to spread around, it has a wealth of creditors. It also owes money on elections dating back to 2007 because payments have been deferred.
The CAL FED recharge project, located on the north side of the Mokelumne River, does not have its required extraction wells yet constructed, Harrigfeld said. The CAL FED project replenishes more than 1,000 acre-feet of groundwater annually.
The cost of extraction wells could be in the neighborhood of $90,000, Scanlon said.
“I didn’t know about either of those costs until just a few days ago,” he said.
The district’s next meeting will take place Feb. 28 at the Lodi Public Library at 6 p.m.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.