Water veteran steps down
by Sam Matthews
Nov 15, 2012 | 2229 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Arnaudo retiring from irrigation district
Steve Arnaudo looks over one of the early West Side Irrigation District maps on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Arnaudo is retiring after 53 years on the board of directors for the irrigation district.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
view slideshow (4 images)
As he has for more than a half century, Stevens J. “Steve” Arnaudo attended the monthly meeting of the West Side Irrigation District’s board of directors Wednesday, Nov. 14.

For the district and especially Arnaudo, it was no ordinary meeting. It was his last.

After serving on the district’s board for 53 years, the 89-year-old is retiring, effective immediately.

“I decided I had served long enough — a lot longer than I ever thought I would — and did not seek re-election to a new term,” he explained.

His replacement, Randy Mattos, was elected without opposition Nov. 6 to serve as the new District 4 manager after Arnaudo decided not to seek re-election.

“Randy will be among a group of a new-generation farmers on the board,” Arnaudo said. “They work hard and know what they’re doing.”

More than five decades ago — on Feb. 4, 1959 — when Arnaudo was appointed to the WSID board by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, it was he who was among a group of young directors beginning to take charge of the district.

“Ernie Pombo and Pete Alvarez were relatively new on the board, and I joined them as one of ‘the young Turks.’ We were determined to streamline operations to keep costs down and water rates as low as possible,” Arnaudo said.

With Pombo serving as board president and managing director, Alvarez was put in charge of maintaining irrigation and drainage ditches while Arnaudo oversaw pumps and equipment. In the process, a manager’s position was eliminated.

One of Arnaudo’s first projects was constructing a 60-inch pipeline from the district’s pumps on the Old River northwest of Tracy for a mile and a half to the district’s upper main canal.

Among his first purchases of equipment for the district was acquiring a new 8-foot, 3-inch model K Allis-Chalmers disc with hydraulic control and hoses.

In addition to his work with equipment and pipelines, he also interviewed and selected auditors for the district’s annual independent audit and represented the district in meetings with Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin to develop drainage facilities.

As a board member, Arnaudo has been re-elected without opposition. He has received $100 monthly meeting stipend, though he said he often spent many more hours a month working than just the monthly meeting on district projects.

Over the years, since the WSID was organized in 1915, the district has reduced its size from an original 11,500 acres to its present 4,801 acres.

“As Tracy has grown, we have detached land that was being turned into housing, businesses and industries,” he said. “We have maintained our focus on providing water for agriculture.”

Along the way, the WSID has worked out cooperative agreements with the city of Tracy for drainage systems and has sold the city 2,500 acre-feet in water rights from the Delta-Mendota Canal.

West Side continues to receive its water directly from both the Old River and the Delta-Mendota. And, according to Arnaudo, the district continues to operate efficiently — water rates are on the low end of the spectrum, he said, at $30 an acre-foot.

Adjusting to the urbanization of the Tracy area and making sure the district has electric power at the lowest possible cost are the two major challenges facing the district, Arnaudo said.

Dealing with those issues, along with Mattos, are WSID directors Jack Alvarez, president, and Ernie Pombo Jr., Tom Pereira and Steve Serpa. Dave Kaiser is district water manager.

Arnaudo although closing in on his 90th birthday, is by no means retiring completely. He still is active in overseeing family farming operations, mostly in the Delta north of Tracy. The family also has a cattle-feed brokerage and trucking business and is building homes in the Santa Nella area of western Merced County.

In addition to serving as a WSID director for 53 years, Arnaudo was a member of the San Joaquin County Planning Commission for 27 years and a trustee of the Tracy Joint Union High School District for 14 years. He was Tracy Farmer of the Year in 1987.

He and his wife, Arlean, have three sons, Greg, Vernon and Frank, all involved in family operations, and a daughter, Leonor Franco, a real estate agent who is married to James Franco, superintendent of the Tracy Unified School District.

In looking back at his 53 years on the WSID board, Arnaudo said it is easy for people to forget how important water is to this area.

“Look around you,” he said. “Without water, there wouldn’t be much here.”

• Contact Sam Matthews of 830-4234 or shm@tracypress.com.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 15, 2012
Congratulations on your retirement and thank you for the fifty-three years of service.

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at tpnews@tracypress.com.