Farmers await Modesto Irrigation District board’s move on water deals

gstapley@modbee.comMay 12, 2014 

Farmers might be waiting to see what the Modesto Irrigation District board will do Tuesday before committing to water transfers.

As of Monday, only three farmers had signed up to buy additional water freed up by others in a fixed-price program managed by the district, and 18 sellers and buyers submitted transfer requests in open-market deals handled among themselves in a second program.

That represents a tiny portion of MID’s 3,100 water customers. But most likely are aware that the application deadline was extended to Thursday, and know that program terms could change at Tuesday morning’s board meeting.

With two board members absent from a meeting three weeks ago, the three in attendance could not agree on whether to relax proposed rules for participating in transfers, as requested by many farmers. Some called the rules excessive and punitive to those trying to help the district, other growers and themselves.

Despite having assured customers a few weeks earlier that transfer rules would be simple, MID staff demanded that growers submit assessor parcel numbers, enroll in the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, provide extensive information on private well pumps that could be shared with others, be responsible for permits that probably don’t exist and submit notarized land deeds.

Several farmers hired attorneys to argue their cases at the April 22 meeting, and some board members seemed sympathetic. But the three could not agree on key changes, setting up Tuesday’s expected debate only two days before the deadline.

The board also might consider whether to let MID’s 750 garden-head customers, or people who water yards and gardens with district water, participate in transfers. Rules initially proposed would exclude those customers.

Most MID farmers may get as little as 24 inches of water per acre this year, or 43 percent less than usual, because of the drought.

The district hopes to deliver more by paying farmers to pump groundwater from private wells into MID canals. Details are expected at the board’s May 27 meeting.

Tuesday morning’s board meeting starts at 9 in the chamber at 1231 11th St. For more information, see http://mid.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=1&event_id=103.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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