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City's water purchase was not an 'impulse' buy

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Posted: Monday, August 4, 2008 10:00 pm

Did you know that Lodi used to be known as the watermelon capital of the world? The reason was simple - the roots of the melons did not have to go far to reach water, which was just a few feet under the surface.

Today, the water table is approximately 50 feet below the surface. It is a precious commodity now and will be even more so in the future. You can tell by the increasing discussions over who has rights to Delta water, and the mounting pressure to build a peripheral canal to send freshwater to Southern California. There will be a huge fight in this state over the rights to water in Northern California vs. Southern California.

On April 16, 2003, the Lodi City Council unanimously voted to purchase 6,000 acre feet of Mokelumne River water a year from the Woodbridge Irrigation District, and on Dec. 20, 2006, the council adopted a resolution to build a treatment facility.

City of Lodi staff has recognized for years that our water table is decreasing and they have researched and sought expert opinions on how to best address this issue. The City Council has had 15 public meetings since 2004 on this subject. The decision to build a treatment plant was not an impulse choice, but a decision to secure future water rights and lock in protection of this resource.

A recent op-ed piece in this paper accused the council of making an impulsive decision in 2003 without having a plan to use the water and another editorial recommended using the water to recharge the groundwater table.

This recent push to again consider recharge has failed to point out some very important issues that the council had to consider. One, the groundwater basin in which Lodi draws its water is being overused and the water quality is adversely affected and this is not considered a sustainable practice. Two, the treat-and-drink option guarantees that Lodi receives every drop of the water we purchase.

Lodi's drinking water wells reach down approximately 140 to 200 feet. They pump about 17,300 acre-feet a year to meet the demands of existing users, which is about 2,300 acre-feet more than is naturally replaced. Despite this overdraft, there will be a greater need for water as more homes and businesses come to Lodi. Three major housing projects have been approved for developments that will take a couple of decades to build out. Ever-increasing groundwater pumping is the reason the county aquifer is dwindling. Should we pour water on the ground and hope it reaches city wells for some indirect benefit, or use it directly?

The city has legal opinions that the treat-and-drink option offers the most protection for Lodi's right to use Mokelumne River water, and to WID to continue to provide it to the city. Groundwater recharge could jeopardize that right and result in state agency oversight and/or an assertion of authority for state control. I am not willing to take that risk.

It's unclear whether groundwater recharge by a municipality would be considered the highest and best use of the Mokelumne River water. But it is clear that the treat-and-drink alternative eliminates further mining of groundwater, thereby resulting in the highest direct benefit to the groundwater basin currently serving the city. Also the treat and drink alternative will lower the salinity levels in both our drinking water and our wastewater, helping the city avoid potentially costly improvements to remove salts at the wastewater plant.

There is, however, another source of water for recharge, and that's the stormwater currently drained to the Mokelumne. I support studying ways to use that water for recharge, rather than high-quality river water.

I recently had a meeting with some farmers from the Armstrong Road area regarding another matter and at the conclusion of that meeting they encouraged me to hold fast to my commitment for a treat-and-drink facility. Those are farmers who could benefit from higher groundwater levels, and they recognize the quality of WID water for direct consumption.

Today there may be renewed controversy in the council's decision to purchase water from WID and build a water treatment facility. In the future, the council will be commended for the deal as water wars erupt all around us.

Larry Hansen is a member of the Lodi City Council and vice mayor.

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