MODESTO — While low prices might seem like a good thing, we see no reason to celebrate the fact that farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District will continue to pay far less than what it costs to deliver their irrigation water.
The MID board's inaction Tuesday on 2013 water rates represents another example of elected leaders failing to lead and provides another indication that this board is not only divided but dysfunctional.
Meanwhile, the thousands of MID electrical customers will continue to cover the red ink in the water side of the MID operation. That amounts to an electrical subsidy. Director Larry Byrd doesn't like the reference to subsidy and during Tuesday's meeting railed against its use in a Bee news story.
Byrd has said he thinks of the MID as one big family. That sentiment might have worked years ago, when electricity was inexpensive, but it has gone up and up and up, while irrigation rates remain artificially low.
This should have been an easy decision for the board, for two reasons: 1) In last year's discussions about the water sale that didn't go through, many farmers acknowledged that they should be paying more for water, both to cover operational expenses and to pay for needed upgrades in the system, and 2) Only 13 protest letters were received from among 2,800 landowners who would have paid the higher amount. A 50 percent protest was needed to block the increase.
In mid-February, the board voted unanimously for the process that gave irrigators the opportunity to object. On Tuesday, Paul Warda made the motion to approve the rate increase. His motion died for lack of a second.
Shamefully, none of the four other directors explained their reasoning in public session, but Bee reporter Garth Stapley asked them about it individually later.
Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild said they believe the increase should be higher. Wild made that argument in February but wasn't able to persuade his fellow board members at the time.
Byrd, a farmer who consistently sides with farmers, indicated he wanted to wait until hearing a recommendation from the Water Advisory Committee. The committee's report isn't due for weeks and it is only an advisory. Responsibility for decisions about rates in this case a modest raise in low irrigation rates remain the responsibility of the elected directors.
Nick Blom said he couldn't second the motion as chair. The MID uses Roberts Rules of Order, and its newly revised version states that a chairman can make a motion.
The board also left MID staff dangling with Tuesday's nonaction. Blom, as chair, should ask that this item be put on an upcoming agenda and the directors should explain their positions and vote.
Meanwhile, three positions those of Van Groningen, Warda and Wild are up in November and none plans to run again. We need strong candidates for this board people who will balance agriculture and electrical concerns, deliberate openly and then make decisions.