Amid the debate over the Modesto Irrigation District selling water to San Francisco, the adjacent Oakdale Irrigation District is looking at two transfers of its own.
One sale would supply about 7,500 acres of almond orchards being planted in an area near Knights Ferry that could be annexed to the OID. The other, involving a much smaller amount of water, would be for the tiny city of Brisbane, which happens to be next door to San Francisco and relies on the big city for its supply.
OID officials said Wednesday that the sales could provide substantial money for canal system upgrades while keeping most of the water local to aid farming.
"Our board's philosophy is that we want to see agriculture expand," board member Frank Clark said. "It generates a lot of jobs. It's an economic benefit to the whole community."
The proposals are yet more evidence that water in California is an asset in great demand from parties willing to pay handsomely for it. This could mean substantial income for the MID, the OID and other districts with strong rights to their river supplies.
San Francisco has offered $700 per acre-foot in a first, relatively small sale, about 70 times what MID farmers pay for the Tuolumne River supply this year. An acre-foot covers one acre a foot deep.
City officials say the cost would be spread over a large customer base and is better than alternatives like desalination of saltwater.
The sale has drawn fierce protest from people concerned that it could mean dry-year shortages for MID farmers and the treatment plant serving Modesto and a few smaller communities.
The OID annexation would involve land owned by Trinitas Partners LLC, based in Menlo Park. It would pay $2,600 per acre to join the district and $60 per acre-foot of water from the Stanislaus River each year.
The OID charges its current farmers a flat $19.50 per acre, which provides as much water as can be reasonably used.
The Trinitas agreement calls for suspension of the transfer in dry years, when the company would use its wells and all of the river supply would go to the OID's current 55,000 acres. The proposal is undergoing a study of possible environmental effects and needs the approval of the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission.
No position by Farm Bureau
The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau has not taken a formal position on the proposal, but it seems to have merit, said executive manager Wayne Zipser. "It stays local and in agriculture," he said. "It would relieve groundwater pumping and increase irrigated land."
Trinitas representatives could not be reached for comment. Their plans reflect the health of the almond industry, whose gross income is second only to milk among farm products in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The lower Sierra Nevada foothills had been thought unfit for tree crops, but a strong market can make the cost of irrigation and soil preparation worthwhile.
Selling to a Bay Area city
Brisbane, home to about 4,300 people, sits on hillside and bayfront land near the southeast corner of San Francisco.
It is one of numerous Bay Area cities that get a wholesale water supply from the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System, operated by San Francisco upstream from the MID's diversion.
Randy Breault, public works director for Brisbane, said he could not comment on details of the sale while it's under negotiation. They include the volume of water, the price, the possibility of cutbacks in dry years, and just how the water would get there. The Hetch Hetchy system is the only conduit now.
Brisbane conceivably could take extra Hetch Hetchy water, which the OID would replace via a connection between its system and the Tuolumne watershed.
Steve Knell, general manager of the OID, also declined to comment on the details but did say Brisbane would get "a very small amount" compared with other users of the district's supply.
The Farm Bureau, which opposes the MID sale to San Francisco because of drought concerns, has not taken a position on the Brisbane sale because details are not yet known.
Water transfers account for a slim percentage of California's water supplies, but managers value them as a way to make efficient use of existing reservoirs and canals.
Knell noted that the OID recently completed two multi-year transfers that raised money for system improvements. One was for Stockton-area domestic use, the other to enhance downstream fish habitat. That water is available for sale again.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.