As district leaders decide today whether to release a revised water-sale proposal, Modesto Irrigation District officials were pushing aside concerns raised by the city of Modesto and farmers regarding the 2,240 acre-foot sale to San Francisco.
MID board President Tom Van Groningen said Monday evening that the board will decide at its meeting today whether to make the newest version of the contract public or send it back to attorneys for more work. He said he expected the proposed contract would be reviewed in closed session.
District officials had said they wanted to give the public plenty of time to review the proposal before a July 10 board vote on the water sale.
Van Groningen said he had not thoroughly read the revisions but believed they addressed issues raised by farmers and the city of Modesto.
The MID would sell an initial 2,240 acre-feet to San Francisco and then conduct an environmental and economic review on transferring as much as 25,000 acre-feet for use by Bay Area cities. San Francisco would pay up to $700 an acre-foot for the water, raising millions the MID would spend on canal system improvements.
The MID canceled a May 22 vote on the proposal after attorneys for Modesto raised several issues in a letter suggesting that the sale would violate a 2005 contract with the MID for supplying Modesto with 36 million gallons per day of treated Tuolumne River water.
City leaders argued that the water-sale proposal would give priority for the water to San Francisco during drought years.
The MID since has responded to the city's letter. According to those familiar with the response, district staff assured Modesto that an initial 2,240 acre-foot transfer would not affect the MID's ability to supply water to Modesto.
Also, the MID has a different interpretation of language in the contract with Modesto, its board president said.
"There is a difference of opinion regarding that," Van Groningen said. "Should the city decide to pursue litigation over that issue is certainly their prerogative. The MID takes the position that the agreement calls for the district to provide water to the city and farmers, and that will occur."
Modesto City Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. said he didn't expect to see any major changes in the MID's revised proposal.
"Everything I have heard from MID has been pretty dismissive," Cogdill said. "I don't think there will be anything of substance (in the new contract) that puts people's minds to rest."
He added, "I am not in favor of any sale that puts Modesto and our ratepayers in second position for water. We have to protect our rights. I think a lawsuit is definitely an option. That was the whole point of sending our letter."
Byrd: Issues not addressed
MID board member Larry Byrd, who is opposed to the transfers, said he received a copy of the water-sale proposal Thursday.
"They did not address my issues and they did not address the public's issues either," Byrd said. "It's a horrible agreement. It places San Francisco in first position ahead of Modesto residents and the farmers."
At its meeting this morning, the MID board is set to discuss a May 31 meeting with Stanislaus County Farm Bureau members about alternatives for raising funds for canal improvements.
According to a summary in the agenda packet, the Farm Bureau remained opposed to the transfers. Possible increases to agricultural water rates were discussed May 31, although a hypothetical series of 10 percent annual rate hikes would not cover the full cost of service, the MID said.
In addition, the Farm Bureau asked the MID for cost estimates on key system improvements. "We didn't come away with anything concrete," Farm Bureau Executive Manager Wayne Zipser said.
Last week, MID General Manager Allen Short responded, in a formal memo, to Farm Bureau President Ron Peterson's opinion piece published in The Bee on June 19, which spelled out why the group is opposed to the transfers.
Short countered that the 2,240 acre-foot transfer wouldn't deplete groundwater or adversely affect agricultural customers. He dismissed Peterson's concerns that regulatory changes from the relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir would require increased releases in the Tuolumne River.
Short noted that any regulatory changes would result in modifying the water-sale contract, if necessary.
"Any larger transfer will be subject to extensive environmental and economic review," he wrote.
According to an MID summary of the meeting with the Farm Bureau, farmers in the district would need to pay $248.50 per acre to cover the full cost of water serv-ice, instead of the current $29.50 per acre.
The MID board will meet at 9 a.m. today, in the boardroom at 1231 11th St.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.