Modesto Irrigation District board to consider drought-easing ideas

gstapley@modbee.comJune 8, 2014 

The Modesto Irrigation District may be willing to pay $200 an acre-foot for groundwater pumped from private wells and spread among other customers during this drought year.

The suggested price is identical to what the district is paying 14 farmers who gave up their fair share of MID canal water. For the sake of comparison, the district last year sold water for about $10.83 per acre-foot. An acre-foot of water covers an acre a foot deep.

At this point, the price is only a proposal from district management to the MID board, which on Tuesday will consider that drought-easing idea and two others:

• Allocation credit – If approved, growers farming within MID’s boundary could pump groundwater from wells into district canals at one farm and pull it out at another, even if the second is upstream or across the county. Management suggests reducing the credit amount by 35 percent because that’s what usually is lost to evaporation and seepage when water is moved.

Also, transfers would have to be at least 25 acre-feet in volume, and credit could not be carried over to next year, according to the proposal.

• Downstream delivery – This is similar to credit but applies to pumping at one location and delivering to another downstream on the same line, including to another farmer who might be paying top dollar for the extra water.

That part is similar to the district’s farmer-to-farmer transfers, another of this year’s innovations that allows open-market sales among parties with private deals. By a June 1 deadline, people with 101 contracts have signed up for this option, with other deadlines coming July 1 and Aug. 1.

The district will transfer water from farmer to farmer for free, while management suggests charging $300 for downstream delivery applications, plus a fee of $10 per acre-foot. That, too, is open to debate Tuesday.

The pumping proposals are collectively called the MID’s Water Management Alternatives Program. All would depend on a well’s location and applications could be denied if the well is in the wrong place. For example, pumping near the end of a canal would not do the district much good if few customers remain downstream, while those upstream stand a better chance of approval.

The 14 farmers forgoing MID water this year represent 1,300 acres that will be fallowed or receive water from another source. Those people will receive $200 per acre-foot, or $400 per acre because each grower has been promised 2 feet of canal water per acre, a 40 percent reduction for the normal allocation in years past.

Twenty-six other customers signed up to receive 6 inches of extra water from that source for 1,800 acres, paying $200 an acre-foot.

As expected, many more growers interested in transfers are taking the open-market approach, which has no limit on price, reflected in the 101 deals requested by the June 1 deadline.

Growers this year have another tool to help keep track of how much MID water they’re using: They can check constantly updated online reports.

The pumping proposals have been vetted at meetings with growers, but it’s up to the MID board to decide on particulars. Tuesday’s meeting will start at 9 a.m. in the board chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto.

“It’s all up for discussion,” district spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

Terms of the draft Water Management Alternatives Program can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1n1iIB3.

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

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