Once again, the Oakdale Irrigation District is demonstrating how to make the best use of its generous supply of Stanislaus River water, especially in a dry year. This morning, the OID board will consider a one-time sale of water to West Side farmers, who are getting far less than their full allotment.
The sale of 40,000 acre-feet of water could bring in $4 million for the OID, making more money available for the eastern Stanislaus County district to pay for improving and maintaining its canal system and keeping its water rates low. It's a proverbial win-win.
Last week, Modesto Irrigation District Director Larry Byrd suggested he would be open to one-time sales during wet years to growers as a means to finance canal and other water distribution improvements for the MID. This from the director who led the opposition to the proposed long-term sale to San Francisco.
Byrd suggested the district could get "top dollar" for its extra water. Top dollar is more likely to be the price in dry years or for a buyer getting a long-term guarantee, as San Francisco wanted. But we agree with Byrd that there likely will be a demand for any water the MID doesn't need, even in the big snowpack years.
The OID has a thoughtful, long-term strategy to finance its water system improvements through water sales. The OID is not a retail provider of electricity and has not directly shifted water system costs to power customers, as the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts have done for years.
There's increasing evidence the cost shift will be found illegal by the courts under Proposition 26, passed by voters in 2010 as a way to stop hidden taxes. The San Diego Water Authority filed lawsuits accusing Los Angeles' Metropolitan Water District of overcharging on its rates, and a San Francisco Superior Court judge recently ruled in San Diego's favor on an important issue in the complaint. The case could go to trial by November.
The MID and TID are watching these Proposition 26 cases. The MID also is awaiting the recommendations of a water advisory committee that was convened late last fall. The committee is looking at what kinds of distribution system upgrades are needed and how to pay for them.
Even before their report is finished, we know two things: 1. Electrical customers should not be subsidizing irrigators as much as they are, and 2. Most farmers are not going to be willing or able to pay the substantially higher rates for irrigation water that would be needed for the water side to finance all the improvements.
That's why water sales need to be on the table for the MID, as they have been used so effectively by the OID.