Turlock Irrigation District set to buy water from Modesto?

jholland@modbee.comJune 10, 2013 

BA Don Pedro Powerhouse 1

BART AH YOU/bahyou@modbee.com The Tuolumen River feeding out of the Don Pedro powerhouse in the foreground with Don Pedro dam to the rear left. January 7, 2010

BART AH YOU — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

— The Turlock Irrigation District wants to buy water from the Modesto Irrigation District, its neighbor to the north, to help it through this dry year.

The district boards will meet separately this morning 6/11 to discuss a proposal for the TID to get up toas much as 7,000 acre-feet of Tuolumne River water from Don Pedro Reservoir, which the districts share.

The TID would pay $100 per acre-foot and pass the cost along to the farmers who request the water. That is five times the highest acre-foot charge in the district’s dry-year rate schedule.

The water would amount to 4percent of the 173,750 acre-feet that MID farmers have received in an average year over the past two decades.

The transfer could take place “without compromising MID’s ability to fully serve its irrigation and drinking water customers,” said a memo to the Modesto district board from Walter Ward, assistant general manager for water operations.

TID board President Michael Frantz said the water would be especially useful to dairy farmers growing feed crops such as corn and other feed crops in soil types that drain quickly.

They would face even higher costs if they had to purchase feed from outside, he said.

“I think it’s wonderful that MID is willing to consider making water available to their neighbor,” Frantz said.

The MID would make up to $700,000 in the deal, which would be negotiated in detail if both boards agreed to the basics today.

The proposal is one more twist in the debate over water sales beyond district boundaries. The MID last year dropped a proposed long-term sale to the city of San Francisco after critics raised concerns about dry-year shortages in the Modesto area.

Many of the opponents said that if water is available for sale, it should go to San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts to bolster the agricultural economy.

Fish, scant snow add to woes

For the second year in a row, the snowpack is below average in the central Sierra Nevada, source of most irrigation water in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Relatively strong reservoir storage has kept some districts from sharply reducing deliveries. In parts of the west and south valley, droughtwater’s scarcity has been compounded by fish protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Frantz said the $100 price reflects the market conditions for water. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts got that much for 80,000 acre-feet of Stanislaus River water delivered this spring to the west and south valley.

The MID and the TID have been partners since their founding in 1887. Both secured early rights to the Tuol-umne, and they cooperated on building Don Pedro Dam for water storage, hydropower and recreation.

But they use the water somewhat differently. The MID supplies much of the city of Modesto and a few other locales with treated water, along with raw water for farmers. The TID has more than twice as much farmland, much of it sandy soil that needs a lot of water over an irrigation season.

Frantz said the transfer also would reduce the need to use wells this year, keeping the groundwater available in case 2014 is dry, too.

Officials said they could not recall a water sale between the MID and the TID in the past. MID board member Larry Byrd, who used to work for the district, said water was transferred to the TID in the drought year of 1977, but perhaps not for a price.

The MID board today also will get an update on water system needs from an advisory committee. It was formed after the rejection of the San Francisco sale, which could have helped pay for upgrades.

Both boards meet at 9 a.m. today. The MID meets at 1231 11th St., Modesto. The TID meets at 333 E. Canal Drive, Turlock.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209)578-2385.

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