In its last public meeting before the June 8 election, North San Joaquin Water Conservation District directors discussed the groundwater recharge, a potential new office site, a grand jury report and Measure C.
The district voted unanimously to begin a process that would enable it to open a small office on Sacramento Street to house district records. The district needs an office because the city of Lodi will stop providing support work for the district as of June 30. The district currently pays $25,000 to the city and for the collection of groundwater charges. To rent and furnish the office and hire a temporary employee from Blue Ribbon Personnel of Lodi would cost the same amount as the district currently pays the city.
"It's a push," said District Manager Ed Steffani.
The district also discussed its test on the Tecklenburg Recharge project. Steffani said the results of the test were disappointing, but he wasn't prepared to give up on the site yet. The test began in April and the district was able to pump 150 gallons per minute into the 10-acre test site. The total recharge rate was roughly half a foot per day.
Steffani suggested the board test the site again in the fall after the district has installed a 1,500-foot extension of pipe.
Even if the fall test doesn't provide a recharge rate of at least one foot per day, the pipeline could be used to deliver surface water and ease the burden on the groundwater basin, Steffani said.
Board members also discussed the results of the recent grand jury investigation into the district.
Karna Harrigfeld, legal counsel for the district, said the findings of the grand jury were largely complimentary and should help resolve the concerns people have with the district.
Although the district is not regulated by law to have one, directors Mark Beck and Bryan Pilkington offered to establish a policy and operations manual with job descriptions for the district, as recommended by the grand jury. The board will also take a refresher course on the Brown Act for conduct of its public meetings, another suggestion by the grand jury.
The board also discussed the hotly contested Measure C that will appear on the June 8 ballot. If passed, Measure C would repeal Measure V and enable the district to pursue a fee to recharge the area's groundwater basin.
Pilkington has repeatedly spoken out against Measure C, and said the district has misinformed the public on the issues surrounding it.
During the meeting, he cited testimony from Steffani in 2007 that said the district has an unreliable source of water and can make no long-range plans. Pilkington has regularly cited the quote in his arguments against Measure C.
Steffani countered that the part-time water supply is part of the district's problems. It's necessary to build infrastructure so the district can use water when it's there, Steffani said.
In the past, Steffani has proposed that the district provide incentive for people to use water when it is convenient. He has suggested the district provide surface water at no charge for growers to use it when it is there.
Since it would be difficult and expensive for growers to use the surface water, Steffani said, they should be incentivized for participating.
The board has not taken action on his suggestion.
Pilkington also referenced a district petition to the State Water Resources Control Board in June 2009 in which the district said it would look to alternative sources to generate revenue if Measure C were to fail in his argument against it.
Steffani said the district could look to an acreage charge or property tax to generate funds. However, the acreage charge is limited to a dollar per acre of land that is irrigated. The acreage charge is in place for the original district borders and raises $43,000 annually, Steffani said.
If the district were to increase its usage to 5,000 acre-feet a year, it could raise the charge to $2, but right now the district only uses 3,000 acre-feet, Steffani said. In order for the district to raise its fees, it must be able to show it can use a certain amount of water.
The other way the district could raise money, if Measure C were to be shot down by voters, would be through raising property taxes.
It would require an approval from two-thirds of the voters and would charge property owners who don't use groundwater.
"It's not going to happen," said Steffani.
The district discussed what would could happen if Measure C were to fail.
"If Measure C fails, the district may as well cease to exist," Steffani said.
The local water agencies, such as the Groundwater Banking Authority, could petition to use the district's allocation of 20,000 acre-feet of wet-year water if Measure C fails, Steffani said. If that were to happen, the water that belongs to the district could be used outside district borders, he said.