MODESTO -- Two Modesto officials met Friday with Modesto Irrigation District representatives to reduce tensions over the district's proposed water sale to San Francisco.
According to an MID spokeswoman, representatives of the city and the MID agreed to have their attorneys draft an agreement that would attempt to allay the city's concerns about the sale.
An agreement with Modesto could be a linchpin for the MID's long-term plan to sell water to San Francisco and use the millions of dollars in proceeds to upgrade its irrigation canals.
Attending the meeting at the MID's downtown office were Mayor Garrad Marsh, City Manager Greg Nyhoff, MID General Manager Allen Short and attorney George Petrulakis, who is doing legal work for the district.
Marsh said members of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce asked city officials to meet with the district.
"We're trying to come to an amicable settlement over our disagreements," the mayor said after the meeting.
He added, "The meeting was constructive. I hope something good comes out of it for our city and our farmers, too."
Modesto officials have considered litigation based on opinions that the MID's proposed commitment to San Francisco would conflict with its 2005 contract with the city. That agreement is supposed to provide the city with as much as 60 million gallons of treated Tuolumne River water daily.
Modesto wants a guarantee that city water customers and local farmers will remain first in line for water from the MID. San Francisco has said it wants first priority for water during dry years.
Legal minds now will try to craft language that addresses everyone's concerns.
"I am optimistic," Marsh said. "But I was optimistic after other meetings we've had (with the MID) and nothing moved forward."
MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said the potential agreement would be separate from the MID's sale contract with San Francisco, which is seeking a dry-year supplement that could not be claimed by Modesto. Details of the side agreement have not been determined, she said.
Vote on sale set for July 24
The MID board is scheduled to vote on the sale July 24, but it could decide to postpone it, Williams said. That's happened three times since May as the board has tried to deal with issues raised by Modesto officials, farmers and others.
Tuesday, local opponents of the water sale urged the City Council to schedule a special meeting and initiate legal action before the MID board vote July 24. Marsh told them he had authority to call a meeting, but added that it wasn't necessary.
Marsh said Friday that he cannot make decisions unilaterally for Modesto. The council doesn't have another meeting scheduled this month and the mayor doubted he would call one in the next 10 days to consider a potential agreement with the MID.
The mayor assured that the city hasn't softened its position on the water sale. "We believe the (proposed) contract with San Francisco violates our first rights on our portion of the water. They (MID) read that it doesn't," he said.
Supporters lobby council
Supporters of the water sale have lobbied council members in recent weeks, claiming there's no reason to oppose the initial sale of 2,240 acre-feet per year, which amounts to 1.6 percent of the MID's average annual deliveries to farmers and the treatment plant.
If the MID board were to approve the initial contract with San Francisco, an environmental review would be done on additional transfers of as much as 25,000 acre-feet per year.
Councilman Dave Geer, an arch opponent of the water sales, had been open to taking legal action before the July 24 MID meeting.
Geer said he wasn't aware of Friday's meeting involving city and MID representatives.
"I am still opposed to the sale, period, whether they work out language or not," he said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.