Volunteers with experience in farming, canneries, tea party politics and well witching will take on one of the Modesto Irrigation District's most troubling challenges how to upgrade its aging canal system.
The new advisory committee, an outgrowth of the abandoned idea to sell water to San Francisco, will meet for the first time Nov. 27, MID board members decided Tuesday as they revealed the panel's seven appointees.
The committee should not lack for water engineering expertise. Board members Larry Byrd and Nick Blom respectively appointed Bill Ketscher, who ran the district's engineering division before recently retiring, and Reid Johnson, a civil engineer who managed water projects for three decades.
Also, district officials believe Modesto will send Rich Ulm, an engineer and the city's director of utilities planning, although City Hall sent no representative Tuesday or word on who he or she might be.
The food-processing industry also is well represented, with Jim Mortensen (Del Monte Foods) and Rick Vargas (Stanislaus Food Products) chosen by board members Glen Wild and Tom Van Groningen.
Board member Paul Warda picked Paul Van Konynenburg, a farmer and Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance official. Phil Stine, a grower, former Waterford mayor and dowser, will represent the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.
Some people feared the committee would be stacked in favor of water transfers as a means of raising money for improvements. That could resurrect the hotly debated San Francisco idea, which board members dropped in September under intense pressure.
At least one committee member, however, has been outspoken against out-of-district sales. Johnson spoke more than once in hearings, urging the board not to deal with San Francisco.
"I strongly believe that the assets and resources of MID should remain in local control," Johnson wrote to Blom in an offer-to-serve letter. Johnson also has been active in local tea party activities.
Van Konynenburg also weighed in at a January meeting, saying he would pay higher rates for canal improvements to keep water in the area.
The committee will be introduced at the board's 9 a.m. Nov. 27 meeting at the district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.
Board members have said the panel will use as a starting point an engineering study identifying an estimated $115 million in system needs. The committee is specifically charged with figuring out how to pay for improvements, providing periodic progress reports to the board and formalizing recommendations by May 31.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.
In other action Tuesday, the Modesto Irrigation District board:
Heard pleas from several employees who have worked without a contract for four years. The board deadlocked 2-2 in September on a negotiated agreement providing up to 12 percent raises. Allison Hardy, whose husband works for the district, said employees' options include a "lawsuit or work stoppage." Approving a contract would be "a small gesture of loyalty to neutralize the acid eating at our once well-oiled machine," employee Max Sherwood said.
Approved spending $10,000 to fix up a three-bedroom, two-bathroom waterfront house owned by the district at Modesto Reservoir, on the chance that some MID employee would want to rent it for $600 to $800 per month.
Rejected the Escalon City Council's request to cover fees paid to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The city owes about $13,000 a year under an agreement dating to 1996, when the MID received permission to provide electricity to some Escalon customers. At the time, the MID's rates were cheaper than PG&E's, but now they're about the same. MID officials refused because the burden would fall to its other customers and because granting Escalon's request could prompt demands from other expansion areas Oakdale, Riverbank and Ripon as well as from some large companies paying similar fees.
Reviewed proposed staff levels for the coming year, with 433 positions 5 percent less than two years ago, saving about $2 million per year.