Applicants for the vacant seat on the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District agreed on Tuesday that district officials need to do a better job explaining what the district does and conduct night meetings so that more residents can attend and learn about the district.
Seven applicants - Mark Beck, Larry Mackey, Eileen St. Yves and Martin Church, all of Acampo, have applied, along with Neal Colwell, Fran Forkas and Richard Prima, all of Lodi - appeared before the board, one at a time, at a special meeting Tuesday morning.
They hope to replace Fred Weybret, who resigned his seat in June after 33 years on the board, citing hearing problems during board meetings.
Beck said his vision for the district is to complete General Manager Ed Steffani's 10-year plan to install pumps and other infrastructure needed to pump water out of the Mokelumne River and replenish the area's groundwater basin.
Beck added that the district's controversial groundwater charge, approved in 2007, is necessary at this time in order to build infrastructure needed to pump more water from the Mokelumne River, recharge the Lodi area's parched groundwater basin and maintain local control of area groundwater.
Colwell, a senior engineer for ECO:LOGIC, a Stockton water engineering firm with clients including several from the Lodi area, supports looking for ways to reduce groundwater usage by district residents and encourage greater use of water from the Mokelumne River to improve the groundwater basin.
Forkas, water/wastewater superintendent for the city of Lodi until his retirement in 2003, cited his 40 years of experience in the field. He said he supports the district assessing a groundwater charge to provide additional water pipes and pumps to maximize its water availability, and to seek state grants.
"I think you're headed in the right direction," Forkas told the board. "The only question is the sale of water."
Applicants were asked whether they would support the temporary sale of Mokelumne River water to other water users such as the neighboring Stockton East Water District in order to raise money to construct water-related infrastructure that would allow North San Joaquin to pump more water from the Mokelumne.
Forkas and Mackey, a retired youth correctional counselor with the California Department of Corrections, said that even if North San Joaquin signs an agreement to sell water to another district on a temporary basis, it's typically hard to get the water back.
Prima served as Lodi's public works director for 10 years and worked in for the city from 1975 until his retirement in 2008. He supports a groundwater charge.
"The charge is minuscule compared with the expense of doing a major project," Prima said. "It costs money; don't be ashamed of it."
He said the district should consider establishing a modest office to maintain records and conduct business, and hiring additional part-time employees or contracting with individuals for long-range planning.
Decision next weekThe North San Joaquin Water Conservation district board is scheduled to appoint a new board member at 8:30 a.m. next Tuesday in the Lodi Public Library's community room, 201 W. Locust St. The term expires in November 2010.
Source: North San Joaquin Water Conservation District
Prima and St. Yves strongly urged installing water meters in the district and charging for water based on usage.
St. Yves is a property manager from Acampo who serves on several boards and commissions in Lodi. She says she can provide a different perspective on the board because she is not a farmer. She believes that the needs of city residents should be considered as well as farmers.
Church, who lost to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the Democratic primary in 2006, pledges to preserve water quality as well as quantity to the district. He said that assessing a groundwater charge should be determined by a vote of the people. He also said the district should work to limit residential construction because California has enough people as it is.
Some questions received differing responses depending on how board members phrased the questions.
Bryan Pilkington, often at odds with his board colleagues over how the district is run, asked applicants if they support a groundwater charge on some property owners even though the district gives "free water" to certain property owners and plans to sell water to the Stockton East Water District instead of keeping it for North San Joaquin's use.
Some applicants changed their position after board members Tom Hoffman, John Ferreira and Joe Mehrten explained that the district plans to temporarily offer "free water" to property owners who purchase an expensive conveyance system to pump directly from the Mokelumne River as an incentive to stop pumping well water.
Board members also explained to applicants that any attempt to sell water to Stockton East or another neighboring agency would be short-term - maybe one year - where revenue from the sale would go toward infrastructure for North San Joaquin.