A spokesman for San Francisco said it cannot agree to a water sale contract with the Modesto Irrigation District that gives preference to the city of Modesto during drought.
The statement affirms what San Francisco officials have said before that the first of the proposed sales is designed specifically to boost the city's Tuolumne River system in years when rain and snow fall short.
"Additional water during dry years is the reason we are pursuing this transfer," said Tyrone Jue, director of communications for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in an e-mail Friday to The Bee. "A contract that givespreference to Modesto during these same dry years wouldn't help us meet our water supply shortfalls."
Jue's statement followed the MID's announcement Thursday that it was postponing a board vote on the first sale contract to July 10. It had been scheduled for June 26, but the contract is being revised and officials said they want plenty of public review before any action is taken.
The first sale would be for 2,240 acre-feet of water per year, which is 1.6 percent of the MID's deliveries to farmers and the treatment plant serving the Modesto area. San Francisco would divert the water at its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, upstream on the Tuolumne from the MID's diversion.
The district board could launch the environmental study needed for a sale of an additional 25,000 acre-feet of water. It would be freed up by construction of small reservoirs to capture water that flows from the ends of canals.
MID officials have said their study of drought records shows that the first sale could be carried out without shorting domestic users in the Modesto area.
Moris Davidovitz, a San Francisco-based attorney working on behalf of the city of Modesto, saw it otherwise in a May 18 letter to the MID. It said the 2005 agreement on expanding the treatment plant does not allow transfers that impair Modesto's supply.
"It is our opinion that the MID's planned commitment to SFPUC would conflict with MID's contractual obligation to the city of Modesto," Davidovitz wrote.
The district and San Francisco reopened the contract negotiations after hearing concerns from Modesto officials and other critics.
Some farmers urge that the water stay in the area to sustain its agriculture-based economy. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau has suggested that water rate increases for farmers could be used to pay for some of the canal system upgrades that the MID had proposed to fund with the San Francisco money.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, call for the MID to put more water into the Tuolumne to help its beleaguered fishery.