Four seek two seats on Turlock Irrigation District board

jholland@modbee.comOctober 6, 2013 

  • 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
    E-mail: jholland@modbee.com
  • Hear the hopefuls

    What: Forums for candidates in Turlock Irrigation District and Turlock Unified School District

    When: 6:15 to 8 p.m. Thursday

    Where: Turlock Chamber of Commerce, 115 S. Golden State Blvd.

    Sponsor: Latino Community Roundtable

Two incumbents on the Turlock Irrigation District board have challengers in the Nov. 5 election, one who spent his career on the canal system, the other with long experience providing electricity.

Almond grower Ron Macedo is vying for a second four-year term against Darrel Monroe, who said he took full retirement from the district after a dispute with management. They seek to represent an area that stretches from south Turlock to Delhi and Hilmar.

Dairy farmer Joe Alamo is seeking a second term against Dan Agundez, who managed the Los Banos region’s power system for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. until retiring. Their area includes the west side of Ceres and the rural northwest part of the district.

All four men hope to help govern an agency that recently has bolstered the power supply for its 98,000 electricity customers with a new gas-fueled plant near Ceres and other projects, but one that faces tough issues on the water side.

These include a drought that threatens to go into a third year, straining the supply of Tuolumne River water stored in Don Pedro Reservoir, and demands on groundwater by the district and private landowners.

The district, along with the Modesto Irrigation District across the Tuolumne, also faces the prospect of reduced irrigation so more water could flow down the river to benefit fish. This could happen through the federal relicensing of Don Pedro, due in 2016, and separate proceedings by state water regulators.

TID is the largest irrigation district in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, with about 150,000 acres of farmland stretching from south Modesto to north Merced County and from the lower Sierra Nevada foothills to the San Joaquin River. It provides electricity to much of the West Side of Stanislaus County, but power customers there cannot vote for the board.

The candidates:

Dan Agundez

The candidate spent 40 years with PG&E, starting as a lineman and working up to supervisor.

“I want to provide affordable and efficient water and power, with open and transparent leadership from the TID board and staff,” he said.

Agundez said the district has not paid enough attention to the impact of groundwater pumping by itself and private parties. He also said high-horsepower well pumps could strain the electricity supply.

“It just seems like the board right now has no urgency in dealing with the problems and issues,” he said.

Agundez opposes a proposal by the state Water Resources Control Board to greatly increase flows for fish in the Tuolumne and nearby rivers. He said it could be a way of getting water to the twin tunnels that Gov. Jerry Brown proposes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

He also opposes selling water outside the district.

“We need the water to stay here with our farmers and residents,” he said.

Agundez questions the practice of having TID’s electricity customers pay some of the water operation cost.

He said his experience with PG&E would provide common-sense ideas, such as $80 lightning arrestors on transformers that could prevent outages that cost up to $3,000 to fix.

Joe Alamo

The incumbent said he has worked to keep water and power rates affordable, in part through budget workshops that allow for public input.

Alamo said the district was right to hire backup line workers from a private company after a two-day outage last year when no one on the TID staff could be reached.

“I think we need to use the contractor at this time because our customers demand more on the reliability front,” he said.

Alamo noted investments in TID’s electricity system, including a second gas-fueled plant off Crows Landing Road and a major transmission line between the Ceres and Hughson areas.

“We are in very good shape for the future as far as the power supply,” he said.

The district has challenges ahead with the state’s mandate for at least 33 percent renewable energy, Alamo said, something TID got a big jump on with a wind project in Washington state.

He also noted upcoming costs with the “cap-and-trade” system for dealing with climate-changing emissions in California.

Alamo said that despite the complaints about groundwater overuse, the district has helped the situation for many years with flood irrigation that recharges the aquifer. Protecting surface water rights on the Tuolumne will reduce the groundwater use, he said.

Alamo opposes selling water outside the Turlock area’s groundwater basin.

Ron Macedo

The incumbent said the top issue facing the district is proposals to increase river flows at the expense of irrigators.

“We fight every day to preserve what we have here,” he said. “TID has a long history of vision and success and doing what’s best for the community, and I want to continue to be part of that.”

Macedo said TID has increased the overall groundwater supply through flood irrigation.

The district has a solid power supply thanks to Don Pedro hydropower, the second gas-fueled plant off Crows Landing Road and a large wind system in Washington state, he said. TID has been especially good at providing backup power for when the wind is not blowing, he said.

Macedo said he would work to keep power rates in line “because that’s one of your cost drivers in any business or home.”

Having private line crews as a backup during outages was “not the most popular choice,” he said, but it is necessary to keep the power on for people who need it for business, health and other needs. “We can’t take that chance,” he said.

Macedo said he could not comment in detail on a dispute his opponent, Monroe, had with district management before retiring.

Darrel Monroe

The challenger, who worked as a ditch tender for 23 years, said the district tried to terminate him after a long-running dispute that culminated in him leaving a profanity on a voice mail. He said he was able to take retirement with full benefits.

Monroe said he was motivated to run not by this issue, but because he is “passionate about making the kinds of decisions that will best ensure that the district is fiscally sound.”

He said he would fight efforts to increase Tuolumne flows. He also has charged that current TID operators are causing more water to spill out the ends of canals than before, meaning more demand on groundwater.

Monroe said the use of a private company for backup line workers will end up costing TID more while putting electrical safety at risk.

He said his knowledge of water operations, along with the time he has available in retirement, make him the choice in the election.

“I have been involved with the district in some way most of my life, and serving as a board member would be an extension of my service and interest in the district,” he said.

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

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