A controversial proposal to sell water to San Francisco will not go before the Modesto Irrigation District board until July 10, the MID announced Thursday.
The board had planned to vote on the first sale contract June 26. The delay will allow the MID and San Francisco to finish revisions to the contract and for public review before the vote, district spokeswoman Melissa Williams said.
Board President Tom Van Groningen said he supports the delay "because we don't want to be in a position where we're in a tight time frame and people feel they're being rushed."
The first sale would involve 2,240 acre-feet of Tuolumne River water, which is 1.6 percent of the MID's average annual deliveries to farmers and the treatment plant serving the Modesto area.
The board also could launch the environmental study needed for the sale of an additional 25,000 acre-feet, freed up by conservation projects on the canal system.
San Francisco, which already taps the Tuolumne upstream from the MID, would pay up to $700 per acre-foot to start in the first sale, about 70 times what farmers pay this year.
Critics have said the sales could mean water shortages in dry years for farmers and the MID's residential users.
"I think (the delay) is irrelevant, because MID has no water to sell," said Reed Smith, a walnut grower east of Modesto.
This is the second delay for the sale contract. A May 22 vote was canceled so the MID and San Francisco could address concerns. That revision is still in the works.
Supporters say the income from San Francisco could pay for major improvements to the web of MID canals north of the Tuolumne River, meaning no major rate increases for farmers.
The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, which questions the sales, is talking with the MID about paying for some of the upgrades via irrigation rate increases for farmers.
The MID faces a possible legal challenge from Modesto, which argues that it has priority over San Francisco.
And the proposal has alarmed environmentalists, who urge that any water conserved by the MID be released into the river to benefit fish.
Board member Paul Warda said he supports the delay.
"I think taking more time to study it, for or against, is the right thing to do," he said.
Board member Nick Blom agreed, saying, "I don't think we need to rush this."
Upgrades, relicensing costs
The MID would use the proceeds from the sales on an estimated $115 million worth of upgrades, including small reservoirs that capture water that flows out the ends of canals.
The district also faces about $25 million in expenses related to the federal relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir, which it jointly owns with the Turlock Irrigation District.
Supporters of the San Francisco proposal say it would not involve the underlying water rights and would have protections for the area in case of drought.
Opponents warn that the MID is giving the impression that it has extra water, which could bring calls for increased flows in the lower portion of the Tuolumne River.
A spokesman for San Francisco could not be reached for comment about the delay. The first sale would provide a dry-year backup for its 2.6 million customers in four Bay Area counties.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.