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With no relief from drought in sight, water flow from the Mokelumne River to Lodi may dry up

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Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014 1:25 am

If this year’s drought gets to a point where the state begins rationing water to municipalities, Lodi could see its flow from the Mokelumne River cut in half.

Abby Figueroa, a spokesperson for East Bay Municipal Utility District, said 2014 could be declared a dry year by this summer.

That means water flow from the Mokelumne through Woodbridge Irrigation District could be cut.

The district currently receives 60,000 acre-feet of water a year from the river, provided that inflow into the Pardee Reservoir is more than 375,000 acre-feet, as set forth in a 1983 agreement with EBMUD.

Pardee Reservoir had only a 218,638 acre-foot inflow as of Thursday, according to EBMUD’s daily report.

Figueroa said her agency must inform WID by July 1 if this will be a dry year. If that happens, water flow to WID will be cut to 39,000 acre-feet.

She said the last time EBMUD cut flows to WID was in 1976, during the worst drought on record in California.

Andy Christensen, WID manager, said that while a cut water flow is expected, the district does have one of the oldest appropriative water rights agreements in the state.

Appropriative rights like WID’s allow the district to divert water flows for continuous benefit, such as supplying water to a community.

He said the district’s water right agreement was created prior to the Water Commission Act of 1914, and its water rights will be one of the last to be cut.

“Pre-1914 water rights (such as the district’s) aren’t subject to state legislation,” he said.

The state’s Water Commission Act became effective in 1914, which gave the newly created water commission the authority to grant permits and license surface water rights.

Landowners and water users that had established water usage prior to 1914, like the Woodbridge Irrigation District, became senior water rights users.

According to the California Water Impact Network, the water commission, now known as the State Water Resources Control Board, cannot regulate the water rights of “pre-1914” users like WID.

However, WID’s water rights would be reduced before riparian water rights holders, who are allowed divert waters from a stream or river adjacent to their property for agricultural purposes, Christensen said.

The city of Lodi has been purchasing up to 6,000 acre-feet of water — or two billion gallons — per year at $1.2 million from Woodbridge Irrigation District since 2007, according to Lodi Public Works Director Wally Sandelin.

The city’s contract with the district lasts for 44 years, Sandelin said, with a 40-year extension to be activated at the end of the current agreement.

If the district’s flow were to be cut in half, the city’s water supply from the district would also be cut in half, to 3,000 acre-feet, he said. The city would still pay $1.2 million.

“We pay that $1.2 million each year,” Sandelin said. “However, if our flow was cut in half, the remaining 3,000 acre-feet owed to us would be put in a ‘water bank,’ which we would receive in the future.”

Christensen said the district has not yet determined how much water it would cut from Lodi’s flow should its water rights be reduced.

Last week, Sandelin said the city’s well water supply is in good shape, and there’s no plan to ration water in the immediate future.

Between March and October of each year, the city runs 5,000 acre-feet of water from the lake through Lodi Surface Water Treatment Plant.

The remaining 1,000 acre-feet is run through the plant from November to the end of January. After being treated at the plant, the water goes through the city’s underground distribution system and is stored with its supply of well water.

The irrigation district drains the lake in February, and the flow of water from the lake to the treatment plant is stopped.

The city will not receive any water until the lake is refilled, typically by March.

In addition, he said the city has taken aggressive measures to conserve water by installing more than 7,000 new water meters throughout the city.

The Public Works Department is also promoting xeriscaping to help conserve water.

Xeriscaping involves landscaping or gardening in ways that reduce or completely eliminate the need for an irrigation system.

Some methods the department has used include drip systems that release one drop of water at a time to irrigate plants, as well as growing water-efficient plants such as cactus, rosemary, juniper or manzanita.

According to AccuWeather.com, a private weather forecasting service, there may be showers next weekend near the Camanche Reservoir and here in Lodi. Intermittent rain is also expected in both areas on Feb. 15.

More rain is anticipated the first week of March near the reservoir as well.

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at wesb@lodinews.com.

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