For board members of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, the next 30 days will feature a firestorm of tasks and meetings. Although the board did not adopt a budget or determine any avenues for generating revenue at Monday’s meeting, directors did agree to hold meetings more often and will look to work with private investors to use more surface water. In comparison to most district sessions, Monday’s meeting was a subdued and didn’t contain multiple outbursts and heated exchanges.
In addition to two public workshops, directors will also host a regular session, possibly apply for a grant and look to fill soon-to-be-vacated positions within the next month. The two workshops will individually discuss district finances and potential projects, while the regular session will bring the board closer to replacing its retiring general manager and water master.
“I think we should meet every month,” said board member Mark Beck. “If we catch up, we can switch to meetings every other month.”
District meetings are currently held quarterly.
The dates for the workshops were not officially announced but Beck said the public session regarding the district’s finances will be held within 10 days.
As previously promised, general manager Ed Steffani and water master Pete Weinzheimer did not attend Monday’s meeting. Both men have announced their retirements, but still provide services to the district. Weinzheimer operates the agency’s pumps, pipelines and trenches, while Steffani conducts clerical work. The men are working in a volunteer capacity until their positions are filled.
Besides the absences of Steffani and Weinzheimer, board president Bryan Pilkington also did not attend the session. Board vice president Hugh Scanlon presided over the meeting and said Pilkington did not participate due to health concerns.
Hope on the horizon?
Private investors want to help the district use more surface water, but the agency could be too financially strapped and behind schedule to benefit.
“This is the downside of delays,” said Jennifer Spaletta, an attorney for Herum Crabtree who served as the district’s legal counsel Monday evening. “There is no budget or revenue source.”
A speaker on behalf of the Franzia family requested the district consider adding a point of diversion to the Mokelumne River so that local farmers could draw water from Tracy Lake. The district looked at the idea last year and applied for a grant to conduct the project, but it was not approved.
The spokesman, Ali Elhassan, is an engineer for Robertson-Bryan, Inc. and said the program would help local growers and replenish the region’s aquifer.
The project could cost roughly $800,000 and the district is looking to split the costs between investors and grants.
Board member Joe Petersen motioned that directors Beck and Scanlon sit on a committee that oversees the most cost-efficient way to apply for the grant and point of diversion.
Since the agency’s budget is strained, board members want to pursue grants and private investors so that the district’s costs for such a project are minimal. When the district pursued the idea last year, Steffani recommended that the district pro-rate the service charges of those who help build projects that help use surface water. Basically, those who help spend for pipelines and conveyance systems would pay less for their water for a brief period.
The idea was never formally adopted but Beck said the district should consider the concept again. However, he quickly pointed out that no one would receive free water and that the district wouldn’t be playing favorites.
“We wouldn’t be giving away water,” Beck said. “I don’t want anyone to get that idea.”
The district has until Feb. 17 to apply for the grant.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.