There is great interest in the proposed sale of our water to San Francisco and there should be. Water is the single most important resource to our community. We depend on it to thrive.
It is easy to forget that Modesto is in a desert. We grow crops only through the vision, sacrifice and courage of those who built the irrigation assets back in the 1890s and beyond.
Finished in the 1970s, Don Pedro is the largest reservoir in California that doesn't belong to the state or federal government and we own it. Because it provides reliable water, farm land in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts is worth twice as much as land outside the districts.
The proposed sale has many faults.
Water is already scarce. This spring, MID cut the irrigation allotment to farmers by 14 per- cent, from 42 to 36 inches.
MID management and lawyers claim they would never sell water needed locally. But the facts are clear we do not have the water to sell.
In the near future, Modesto's urban water will increasingly come from the Tuolumne River.
That's why MID and Modesto are expanding their water treatment plant. When Phase 2 comes on line, the city will get another 33,000 acre-feet per year. MID and city models show that this water will be applied only as ag land is converted to urban use. This is a deliberate misrepresentation. The 2010 delivery agreement between MID and the city is clear: as soon as phase 2 comes online, the city will get another 33,000 acre feet of surface water per year.
If that water had been taken in 2012, farmers would have gotten 31 inches per acre instead of 36. Take another 24,000 acre-feet for expected Federal Engergy Regula- tory Commission requirements under the relicensing of the Don Pedro Dam, and farmers are down to 26 inches in a wet year 20 in a dry year.
Send another 27,200 feet to San Francisco, and farmers get only 20 inches in a wet year and 14 in a dry year. That is entirely inadequate for profitable farming in a desert.
Our family sells trees and vines to farmers throughout California. In many areas of the Central Valley, water insecurity causes farmers to plant only a portion of their property in high-value tree crops. A loss of water reliability will devastate our productivity and our farmland values. We just don't have the water to sell.
Any available water should be used to grow crops. Putting water on valley farms is more beneficial to us than supplying it to San Francisco for its growth.
An acre-foot of water used to grow crops translates into about $1,500 of output. Multiply that seven times as the money moves through our economy, and you see that an acre-foot of water for ag creates $10,000 in local economic activity.
More water for San Francisco and its 29 customer cities equals more congestion, population and bad air for us. San Joaquin Valley motorists pay an extra $12 per vehicle to cover a federal fine for poor air quality. Part of that was due to Bay Area smog blowing into our valley.
Why not sell the water to farmers in nearby areas? The MID board directed management to explore this 17 years ago, yet no ag-to-ag transfer has taken place or been proposed.
Finally, this sale would be catastrophic for our health. As water comes down the river, one of three things happens: cities or farmers use it, it soaks into the ground and recharges our aquifer or it flows into local drains.
Under the Urban Water Management Plan the city and the MID filed with the state last May, the city's water sources included the overdrafted groundwater that increasingly fails to meet quality standards. The report recognizes that we cannot continue to rely on groundwater.
Modesto residents live in managed scarcity now. With this water sale, a Stage 2 drought will be the new normal. A few really dry years and we'll see further restrictions on watering our yards; our beautiful urban forest could wither; and we could face water rationing.
Public health could suffer. Some groundwater in the county already fails to meet health standards due to too much arsenic, nitrates and uranium. Tighter and tougher standards will increase while the quality of well water degrades. This water sale could literally poison future generations.
That is the final major fault we will hurt our environment and ourselves with this sale.
Remember, a public debate was not part of the plan for MID management and directors. This sale only came to light because someone who was sworn to secrecy slipped it out. This water sale is a bad deal for Modesto and Stanislaus County.
Duarte is a nurseryman in Hughson.