After decades of low water rates subsidized by electrical customers, farmers across Stanislaus County are being required to pay more.
The Modesto Irrigation District raised rates nearly 10 percent last month for thousands of its agricultural users. Tuesday, it was the Turlock Irrigation District's turn after a 4-1 board vote that brought little protest.
The average TID farmer will have a 12.5 percent increase in normal years and a 21.8 percent hike in dry years. This assumes annual water use of 2¾ acre-feet per acre. An acre-foot covers an acre a foot deep.
The lightest users will see a slight decline in normal years and a slight increase in dry years. Above-average users will get increases under both scenarios.
Even with the changes, the rates will be among the lowest in California.
"I for one would not be opposed to paying more for the water, as long as you don't get too far out of line," farmer Tim Sanders said.
The two irrigation districts jointly own the Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River. The TID delivers more of the water because its service area is about twice as large as the MID's.
Under state law, Tuesday's increases would have been blocked if a majority of the roughly 5,800 affected TID landowners objected before or at the rate hearing. Less than 1 percent did so.
The increases will help close the gap between income and expenses for the TID system, said Steve Boyd, director of water resources.
The deficit is about $1 million in normal years and up to $2.7 million in dry years, when increased groundwater pumping is needed to augment the main supply from the Tuolumne River.
The difference is made up by the TID's 98,000 or so electricity customers, who benefit from cheap hydropower from Don Pedro.
The new rate structure is designed to comply with a 2009 state law that seeks more accurate measurement and pricing of water. The TID did this by increasing the number of tiers at which rates increase to reflect greater use per acre.
Under the current system, a charge of $26 per acre buys a basic allotment that varies with watershed conditions. This year, it is 2¼ acre-feet, reflecting the dry winter. An additional five-sixths of an acre-foot sells for $15.
The new structure will have fixed charges of $23 per acre in normal years and $26 in dry years. Charges per acre-foot will be levied on top of this.
Last month, the MID raised its base charge to $29.50 per acre, which this year buys 3 acre-feet.
MID farmers can get an additional half acre-foot for $7.375 per acre. Water in excess of this can be sold for $30 per acre-foot on a case-by-case basis.
The MID board is still weighing a plan to pay for canal system upgrades by selling water to San Francisco. Almost all of that water would be freed up by conservation projects on the system.
San Francisco has offered to pay $700 per acre-foot in the first, relatively small sale. It can pay that much because it has reservoirs on the Tuolumne River and can spread the cost among its 2.6 million customers.
The first sale is still tentatively scheduled for a June 26 vote by the MID board, spokeswoman Melissa Williams said Tuesday.
The district and San Francisco have been renegotiating the sale contract to address concerns that it could leave farmers and Modesto-area domestic users short in dry years.
Meanwhile, some farmers have suggested raising their rates even more as an alternative to the San Francisco sales.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.
TID WATER RATES
Annual per-acre charges for various levels of water use, starting in 2013:
1 acre-foot $25, down from $26
2 acre-feet $27, up from $26
3 acre-feet $30, up from $26
4 acre-feet $33, up from $26
5 acre-feet $48, up from $41
6 acre-feet $68, up from $61
1 acre-foot $28, up from $26
2 acre-feet $31, up from $26
3 acre-feet $40, up from $33.50
4 acre-feet $57.50, up from $51
5 or more acre-feet not available