One-time water sale from to Turlock a good idea

OUR VIEW

June 10, 2013 

PG TID Headquarters

(Patty Guerra/pguerra@modbee.com) - Exterior of the Turlock Irrigation District building. April 18, 2011

PATTY GUERRA — Modesto Bee

— At its meeting this morning, the Modesto Irrigation District board will consider selling some of its water. A year ago, that would have set off a firestorm.

But this proposed sale is one-time, rather small and amounts to helping out a partner agency, the Turlock Irrigation District. We see no good reason for MID directors to turn down the TID's request to buy up to 7,000 acre-feet of water later this summer to assist local farmers who are getting less than their normal allotment.

The TID is responding to dairy owners and others growing corn, oats and other forage crops that need more than the 34 inches that the TID has allocated this year. They will be offered the option of buying additional water at a cost of $100 per acre-foot — the amount of water it costs to cover an acre 1 foot deep. (An acre is about the size of a football field.) The TID is asking to buy the water at the same price and basically just passing the cost through to farmers.

TID president Michael Frantz said that some farmers indicated that the extra water will be well worth the price because it will improve the yield on their crops and keep them from having to buy feed. High grain prices are one of several factors hitting dairies hard this year.

Frantz said he doesn't know how many farmers will want to take advantage of the offer. The proposal is written so that the TID only pays for what its irrigators request. The MID staff recommends that the sale be made, in part, because it could provide up to $700,000 for its water operations — which consistently operate in the red.

Dozens of water transfers are proposed in California this year because of the near record low rain and snowfall. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state Water Resources Control Board to expedite the approval process for water transfers as a way to help the agriculture industry. The state agency's list shows almost 261,000 acre-feet of transfers proposed, all involving water from the north going to south and west valley irrigation districts. The buyers include Del Puerto Irrigation District and several others in our region.

Frantz said he suggested the $100 price because that is the amount that Westlands offered to pay the Oakdale Irrigation District for water. That sale has not gone through, according to the OID's general manager, because of legal questions.

The transfer between the MID and the TID would not be complicated because they are partners in Don Pedro Reservoir and the water would simply be released at the La Grange diversion dam.

The last time the two districts transferred water was in 1977, in the middle of a drought. According to Bee news reports from that year, the TID asked for and received approval to tap into the minimum pool — the storage area that is usually left untouched. The districts are usually reluctant to take the water level too low because it reduces the ability to produce electricity.

The MID and the TID and many individual farmers are pumping from wells to supplement their supplies this year.

This proposed sale should be approved. It's the kind of thing that partners should do for each other in tough times.

Both irrigation district boards meet at 9 a.m. today in their respective offices. However, the MID meeting opens with a closed-door session, so it is not clear what time the water sale will be discussed.

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