Over the past 50 years, Modesto and Turlock irrigation district electric customers have subsidized irrigation costs by nearly $400 million. In the last 10 years, the subsidy amounted to $131 million or 44 percent of the total. Ten years ago, an acre of cropland in Stanislaus County grossed $949 and irrigation customers paid about 40 percent of the cost. Today an acre grosses $1,848 and irrigation customers still pay about 40 percent of the cost.
In recent years, the subsidy for irrigation customers has been justified based on groundwater replenishment. In other words, the electric customers pay to restore groundwater so in a dry year the irrigation system users can withdraw it.
Now the payback: All groundwater pumping for irrigation should be assessed a withdrawal fee of $100 per acre-foot. This pumping fee should be paid by irrigation districts and private owners. Also, the assessment code should require that irrigation districts recover these costs from irrigation system users, not their electric customers. The collected fees would be maintained by Stanislaus County in a controlled account. The funds in this account would be restricted to expanding rural water systems or replacement of domestic wells, whichever is most cost effective.
Steve Mohasci, Modesto