MODESTO -- For the second time, the Modesto Irrigation District has reopened negotiations with San Francisco over a proposed water sale.
The talks could lead to a revised contract that eases concerns that the sale may mean dry-year shortages for the city of Modesto, MID General Manager Allen Short said Tuesday.
"We have sent over some language that addresses (MID) board concerns and city of Modesto concerns," he said.
A response could come in a week, he said.
The proposed sale, involving about 1 percent of the MID's average annual deliveries, has stirred up plenty of protest since news of it broke nearly a year ago.
The board has postponed votes on the sale four times since May to deal with objections, some of them from board members. One of the delays was to allow negotiation of a revised contract, which is being revised again.
San Francisco seeks to buy 2,240 acre-feet of Tuolumne River water per year. It already draws from the river upstream of the MID for its 2.6 million customers in four Bay Area counties.
The city would pay $700 per acre-foot to start, about 70 times what MID farmers pay. The contract term is 50 years, with offramps that critics say give an advantage to San Francisco.
The parties have proposed a future sale of as much as 25,000 acre-feet water expected to be freed up by conservation projects on the MID canal system.
Modesto needs come first?
Modesto officials have said the first sale would violate the 2005 agreement under which the MID will supply an expanded treatment plant for Modesto-area domestic users. That document says their needs must be met "before any subsequent water transfers for delivery of water outside the district's boundaries."
The revised San Francisco contract, released in June, added a clause that the MID "will meet its contractual obligations to the city of Modesto."
The MID and Modesto officials have tried to reach a side agreement protecting the city's interests, but that has not yet emerged.
"We've given them our take on our concerns," Mayor Garrad Marsh said Tuesday. "I'm hoping they will make the adjustments that we need to alleviate our concerns."
MID officials have said their review of drought history shows there would be enough water for Modesto and San Francisco in dry years.
The delays in sealing the deal "are not a concern at this time," Tyrone Jue, director of communications for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said in an e-mail Tuesday.
"Since Day One, we've been committed to negotiating a fair deal that benefits all the parties," he said. "We're hopeful to work through the remaining issues."
The proposed sales surfaced yet again at Tuesday's MID board meeting, even though they were not on the agenda.
John Duarte, one of the frequent critics, said the MID should instead use the water to expand agriculture, as the Oakdale Irrigation District proposes to do for about 7,500 acres of almond trees near Knights Ferry.
These uses of river water would help stressed groundwater supplies recover, Duarte said.
Joan Rutschow of Modesto took issue with the claim that the first sale to San Francisco would not affect supplies. "It's not harmless," she said. "It's like the camel's nose under the tent."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.