Why does the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association so vigorously oppose any sale of water to San Francisco? The simple, obvious answer is that our entire economy and way of life is totally and inexorably coupled with water.
J.N. Sbranti's May 9 story ("Study: Manufacturing still strong," Page A-1) clearly defines the economics by telling us that life in Stanislaus County is maintained by agriculture. Fully 71 percent of our manufacturing jobs are involved with agriculture, and agriculture is 100 percent involved with the availability of clean water. Water is needed for growing and processing, and every drop is worth its weight in gold.
MID supports 3,000 farmers on 54,000 acres of land. They use 185,000 acre-feet of MID water and their own well water annually in creating crops worth $2.5 billion dollars. Each acre-foot of MID irrigation water participates in creating more than $13,500 in farm-gate revenue. That farm-gate value is increased "three to eight times" when the product is transported and sold. Thus, 27,400 acre-feet of water helps create more than $370,000,000 annually. (Data from Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, May 6, 2010)
If the MID sells 27,400 acre-feet of our water to San Francisco for $700 per acre-foot, that sale would yield only $19,180,000, providing our county with a massive economic loss.
Proponents of the water sale assert that trading $13,500 for $700 is a good deal. (They call it "lucrative.") The Stanislaus Taxpayers Association thinks it stinks. We seriously question their economic model and wonder who the real beneficiary of this giveaway is.
So, our first argument against the proposed water sale is that it is a major threat to our economic lives. It means fewer jobs, worse education, reduced quality of life and less tax revenue to pay for our safety, roads and schools.
A fact to consider is that 27,400 acre-feet equals nearly half the water consumed in the city of Modesto every year. According to the most recent insert you received in your city water bill, Modesto's annual water supply comes half and half from Surface Water Treatment Plant No. 1 and city wells. The treatment plant provides 35,000 acre-feet of water to the city annually. This treated surface water is so much cleaner than well water that it is used to dilute our polluted well water. This diluted water is then delivered to Salida, South Modesto and other places. Otherwise, they would have no clean water.
Another fact is that 27,400 acre-feet would support the annual demand for water in the cities of Turlock, Riverbank and Oakdale. This is not a small amount of water.
Our third consideration is the moral issue; we call it "doing what is right."
The MID was created to provide clean water to farmers. Period. End of story. Initially, MID and TID water transformed Stanislaus County from a dry farm area to a monster agricultural economic engine. Instead of just wheat, we now produce milk, cheese, eggs, grapes, wine, almonds, bread, chips, olives, vegetables and candy, to name a few high-value products.
Later, MID fell into electricity creation and found a new career. MID now loses millions of dollars producing farm water, but realizes huge profits from electricity sales ($89 million in 2010). Thus, your greatly inflated energy costs subsidize the water business. The fact is, if MID could get entirely out of the water business, it might become a healthy financial entity. Unfortunately, current management has run it into financial ruin. During the last eight years, total expenses have exceeded total revenues. Debt has skyrocketed. Salaries and benefits have grown even more. MID needs cash, and it needs it now. (Annual reports, 2003-2010.)
Clearly, MID management is willing to sacrifice our economic lives for its immediate needs. If only MID would double ag water rates from $10 to $20 per acre-foot, that would eliminate the subsidy. If MID raised rates to $30 per acre-foot, MID would realize a profit of $4 million to do required maintenance. At $40 per acre-foot, MID would be a healthy district.
Simply put, the idea to sell water to San Francisco is both unnecessary and very bad for us economically, strategically and morally.
Thomas is president of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association.