June 11, 2013

Modesto Irrigation District agrees to water sale to Turlock farmers

The Turlock Irrigation District got the OK on Tuesday to buy water this year from the Modesto Irrigation District, its neighbor across the Tuolumne River.

The Turlock Irrigation District got the OK on Tuesday to buy water this year from the Modesto Irrigation District, its neighbor across the Tuolumne River.

The sale of up to 7,000 acre-feet drew none of the rancor that rained down on the MID when it proposed selling water to San Francisco last year.

Its board voted 5-0 to sell the water, which will help the TID get through a second straight year of below-average rain and snow.

The TID board, meeting separately at the same time, voted 4-1 for the deal, which will be finalized by staff members.

MID board member Larry Byrd, who opposed the San Francisco sale, said the TID deal is different.

"We keep the water in our Tuolumne River watershed," he said. "We keep it with our neighbor that we hopefully have a close relationship with, and we want to maintain that."

The TID will pay $100 per acre-foot and pass along the cost to farmers using the water — mainly dairy farmers growing feed crops in fast-draining soils.

The price is five times the highest acre-foot charge in the TID rate structure, but it could be cheaper than the alternative of buying outside cattle feed or pumping water from wells.

TID board member Ron Macedo voted against the deal. He said he is concerned that the MID will be giving the impression that it has surplus water that could be claimed for river fishery releases.

The water will come from Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne, which the two districts share. It amounts to 4 percent of the MID's average annual deliveries over the past 20 years.

MID staff determined that despite the drought, the district can sell to the TID without risk to its own farmers or treated-water users in the Modesto area.

"I think it's a positive thing that we can help our sister agency in a year like this," said Walter Ward, assistant general manager for water operations.

Supporters acknowledged that the sale could come back to haunt the MID if 2014 is dry and this water is not available in Don Pedro.

Roger Van Hoy, the MID's interim general manager, said the two districts would have to work extra hard on water conservation next year if this were to happen.

San Francisco sought a long-term sale of up to 2,240 acre-feet per year. It would have paid $700 per acre-foot and diverted the supply into its Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System, upstream on the Tuolumne from Don Pedro.

The city sought an additional 25,000 acre-feet in future sales — water freed up by conservation projects on the MID canals that the sale income would have funded.

The talks ended in the fall amid concerns that the sales could leave Modesto-area farmers and domestic users short in dry years.

Nut grower and MID board candidate Jake Wenger, who opposed the San Francisco proposal, supported the TID deal because of the short term.

Board members Glen Wild and Tom Van Groningen, who favored exploring the San Francisco sale, said it was "ironic" that its opponents favor the TID deal.

Van Groningen also noted that an average 40,000 acre-feet spills each year from the ends of canals into natural waterways — water that could be sold if captured.

"That seems to me to be a tremendous resource of water that has significant value, and at this point in time, we have chosen to ignore that," he said.

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

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