Citing humanitarian reasons, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District on Friday volunteered to bail out drought-ravaged Tuolumne County by selling it water at a bargain price.
The Chicken Ranch Rancheria of the Me-Wuk Indian Tribe apparently is offering to pay for the water, which will be pumped from New Melones Reservoir and transported to about 44,000 Tuolumne residents, businesses, community facilities and agricultural operations.
The SSJID which primarily serves Escalon, Ripon and Manteca farmers proposed selling 2,400 acre feet of water for $480,000.
Thats $200 per acre foot. The district previously turned down a $400 per acre foot offer from the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, and its likely the water is worth much more than that. A water auction this week in Kern County attracted bids up to $1,350 per acre foot.
But General Manager Jeff Shields said Friday afternoon hes not looking to profit from Tuolumnes plight.
I do not believe it appropriate to seek market prices for water that is going to support and protect our own watershed, said Shields, noting how SSJID gets most of its water from Tuolumne.
Shields said Tuolumne is not to blame for this water crisis: The problem is not one of poor planning, but rather a series of disasters including the drought and the Rim fire at Yosemite.
The Tuolumne Utility District and the countys other water suppliers rely on surface water from Lyons Reservoir.
(Lyons Reservoir) is expected to be completely dry in 80 days or earlier, Shields explained in a memo to his district directors, who will vote on the water sale Tuesday. For several months, (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) used water from Lyons Reservoir to fight the Rim fire. The TUD was not compensated for this water, and now find themselves without water and without funds to replace that water.
Last week, TUD asked the Oakdale Irrigation District if it could provide some of the water it has stored at New Melones Reservoir, but OID said it didnt have any to spare.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also declined Tuolumnes plea for New Melones water.
Tuolumne Utility District has pumping facilities in New Melones Reservoir, but (it has) no water rights, Shields said.
John Mills, a consultant that works on water issues for the Chicken Ranch Rancheria, explained the countys water crisis to Shields on Wednesday. Shields said the tribe would be willing to make water available to the citizens of Tuolumne.
The TUD board of directors also will meet next Tuesday to consider being part of the deal.
Because of the delivery network in the county, this water would not meet (Tuolumnes) entire needs, but the core community would be able to function adequately through the season with 2,400 acre feet, Shields said.
The Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services told Shields that amount of water would be enough to resolve the immediate crisis.
Tuolumnes Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency this Tuesday because of the water shortage. All water customers in the county have been ordered to immediately cut water usage by at least 50 percent, but even that wasnt going to be enough.
Shields noted his districts strong ties to Tuolumne.
SSJID and OID jointly own the TriDam Project, and we have 22 employees and their families that live in this area, Shields explained. The local hospital is where our employees go if there is an emergency, and they attend the local schools and rely on public facilities, such as local fire protection to protect life and limb.
Shields said he knows this is not a good time to be proposing a water sale, considering the district is asking its own growers to curtail water use.
But he assured every grower will have sufficient water to produce a healthy crop, and our citizens will have sufficient high-quality water to meet their necessary health and safety needs.