The North San Joaquin Water Conservation District has been awarded a $300,000 grant for a surface water project and may need to turn to the law firm it fired to help it collect the money.
The Bureau of Reclamation has approved a grant application to fill Tracy Lake and use it to water crops, but the board will not move to receive the funds without legal guidance, directors for the district said at a public meeting Tuesday morning.
"If we still had Herum Crabtree, this would've been a slamdunk," said director Mark Beck. "But without a legal team in place, I'm not touching this with a 10-foot pole."
The five-member board fired the Herum Crabtree legal firm in a 3-2 vote during a closed session in March. Prior to being released, the firm represented the district for 11 years and assisted in the grant application. The firm's knowledge with the subject would streamline the process of accepting the grant, directors Beck and Joe Petersen said.
In order to accept the grant, the district must have its affairs in order with water users near the area — including farmers and the East Bay Municipal Utility District — who could be affected, Beck said. They have until July 1 to iron out details and be in place to receive the money.
The board will hold a closed session in the next 10 days to determine if it will rehire Herum Crabtree to guide them through the grant acceptance process.
However, the district is still in process of finding a legal team to replace Herum Crabtree. If it moved to use the firm for this occasion, it wouldn't necessarily mean they would be rehired by the district going forward, said vice president Hugh Scanlon.
Tracy Lake is an ephemeral — or temporary — lake created by rainfall and excess flows from Jahant Slough and the Mokelumne River. If accepted, the grant would enable farmers to fill the lake with district surface water and draw from it throughout the year to nourish their crops.
Detractors argue that it only helps a few growers surrounding the lake.
Supporters maintain it would help the district maintain its water right of 20,000 acre-feet of water in wet years and would provide natural recharge. Water not drawn from the lake would trickle back into the area's overdrafted groundwater basin, proponents say.
Roughly 5,000 acre-feet of water could be recharged into the ground through the lake and another 2,000 acre-feet would be in the form of in-lieu recharge because growers wouldn't be sucking water from the basin, said Ali Elhassan, senior water resources engineer for Robertson-Bryan, Inc., a the consulting firm that conducted studies on the project.
One of the most outspoken opponents of the Tracy Lake project, board chairman Bryan Pilkington, was absent from Tuesday's meeting due to illness. Director Marden Wilbur, who was endorsed by Pilkington during last year's election, was also absent from the meeting due to a prior engagement.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.