MID revisits internal transfers

03/23/2014 7:02 PM

03/23/2014 7:04 PM

A debate over farmers selling each other water will resurface at Tuesday’s Modesto Irrigation District board meeting.

A month ago, the board took unprecedented action by embracing an open-market approach to water transfers, agreeing on a 3-2 vote to let growers negotiate transfers at any price. But both board members on the short end of that vote have said it’s not a done deal.

“I will make an argument to rescind it on Tuesday,” said board vice chairman Larry Byrd. Opponents of the open-market approach think the water rightfully belongs to everyone and don’t like the idea of wealthy farmers outmuscling small growers with less to spend.

Board member Jake Wenger, who also voted “no,” said he favors a system in which farmers give water they won’t use back to the district for a fixed price. The board also approved that idea, but many question its value if growers can fetch much higher prices on the open market.

Both approaches could come up under Tuesday’s standing report on water supply. John Davids, the district’s civil engineering manager, will remind the board that the MID’s reservoir system has a mere 56 percent of the water it had last year, and growers might get 20 inches per acre instead of the typical 42 inches.

February rains prompted the district to delay the start of irrigation season by four weeks, enabling the season to extend in dry fall weather. Farmers renting district pumps for preseason irrigating will halt Sunday, followed by a week of canal cleaning and the season’s start April 6.

After that, the district will augment its drought-stunted supply by pumping groundwater from MID wells into district canals.

Some growers may prefer a hybrid approach to transfers, said board chairman Nick Blom. He says he knows of some who will sell to neighbors at low prices, using the open-market avenue because it seems less complex than the district’s “allocation return program.”

“We’ll probably discuss it a little more to make sure there is no confusion,” Blom said.

Meanwhile, district staff continues to review the “scope and magnitude” of the recent idea of the district boosting its supply by paying farmers to pump groundwater into MID canals from private wells, a report says.

Tuesday’s board meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto. For more information, go to http://mid.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=1&event_id=114.

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