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No river water for North San Joaquin Water Conservation District

After dry winter, East Bay Municipal Utility District doesn’t have enough in reserves to share

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Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:51 pm, Thu May 31, 2012.

Growers within the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District will be turning to groundwater pumps, since the district will not be permitted to draw from the Mokelumne River this year.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District did not have enough water stored in its reserves to allow North San Joaquin its allotment of about 20,000 acre-feet, said Gerald Schwartz, project liaison and ombudsman for EBMUD in Lodi.

NSJWCD operations have tapered to a near standstill as the board of directors look hard at the possibility of expanding their water right.

"All of our resources are going toward getting more of a water right," said Joe Petersen, board president.

About 1,000 acres of land are served by the district. These growers will now be pulling out more groundwater with their own pumps.

When EBMUD has at least 500,000 acre-feet in its total system storage by early May, North San Joaquin has the option to draw what it can use of its allowance. After a dry winter, the rains this spring weren't enough to fill EBMUD's storage.

In February, the total storage was at about 45 percent of average.

By April 1, EBMUD's projections predicted their total storage to be at about 370,000 acre-feet, or only 49 percent of average.

Schwartz said it is not EBMUD's decision whether North San Joaquin gets water in a given year.

"That is not the fault of EBMUD, but controlled more by the rule and regulations governing water supply," he said in an email. "These are certainly not arbitrary decisions by EBMUD."

Schwartz looked up past water usage by the North San Joaquin district and found that in about the last 50 years, the most water they had used in a single season was about 9,488 acre-feet, in 1973. Since 1987, NSJ has not used more than 3,000 acre feet in any one year. One acre-foot can flood a single acre of land up to one foot deep.

But North San Joaquin's allotment doesn't roll over into the next season. All unused water in storage is released as of Nov. 5 for flood protection. The district finds out each spring if it will have water to sell to its constituents.

That situation is frustrating for Joe Petersen, president of the NSJWCD board of directors.

"It just blows my mind that we can't get more of a water right on a river that flows through our backyard," he said. "We are the second fiddle on the Mokelumne."

The district does not have a watermaster as of Aprl 1. Former watermaster Rick Cropper was offered a part-time position for the season, but he declined. Petersen said that with the lack of both money and water, his imminent return is unlikely, but at the moment it's the right choice for the district.

"If we can't afford it, we need to make adjustments — this is painful for the board, which has to take up the slack, but I believe this was a well thought out decision that helps get us back on budget," said Petersen in an email.

Within the next five months, the district plans to reach out to the public for their input on what they want the district to do.

Petersen expects to have a full plan from the State Water Board within 60 days to share with constituents for feedback on potential changes to the district's water right. In the past, Petersen has estimated that the district gets water in about seven out of every 10 years.

But he isn't worried about the future of his district.

"I'm actually very excited about the potential of the NSJWCD — we just need to get our constituents on board with what we have and what we stand to lose," he said in an email.

It is not yet known how much water will go to Woodbridge Irrigation District this year. Its allotment is based on the amount flowing into the Mokelumne each spring as determined by releases from upper reservoirs by Pacific Gas and Electric. If there is enough flowing in by June 1, WID will be allotted about 60,000 acre-feet. If there is not enough water, that allotment is reduced to about 39,000 acre-feet, confirmed Schwartz.

WID manager Andy Christensen was not available for comment.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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