Modesto Irrigation District leaders who strained to provide farmers with miserly amounts of water in recent drought years now have more than they know what to do with.
So on Tuesday, the MID board agreed to offer surplus water this year to farmers just outside district borders, at about $50 an acre-foot.
An office staff proposal was based on fears that pumping to feed millions of young almond trees on the Valley’s east side could threaten the groundwater table. Offering some Tuolumne River water to growers there could reduce that pumping while boosting the aquifer as crop water seeps down, the theory goes.
This (water surplus) affects everyone in the Tuolumne River basin. I’m excited about it.
Larry Byrd, MID board
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Staff figured that unnamed people farming about 6,000 acres east of Modesto would take about 24,000 acre-feet of water. But in Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided to expand the offer to anyone near MID boundaries, including its west side.
The $50-per-acre-foot price will depend on results from a cost-of-service study that could be presented at the next board meeting May 23. The document would give the board legal cover in case anyone challenges terms of the program, suggested general counsel Ronda Lucas, noting a class-action lawsuit facing MID that claims the district illegally overcharges electricity customers in order to keep farm water prices low.
$17 million 2016 subsidy paid by MID electricity customers to keep farm water prices low
Although the board has raised farm water prices several times in recent years, staff did not propose a rate increase this year. Farmers will pay $16.75 an acre-foot if they use a full allotment of 42 vertical inches, plus they can order 6 inches more.
Surplus water prices charged by neighboring agencies this year range from the Turlock Irrigation District’s $20 an acre-foot to the Merced Irrigation District’s $75 an acre-foot, a report said.
42 inches 2017 water allotment for the Modesto Irrigation District
36 inches 2016 allotment
16 inches 2015 allotment
MID provided a historic low of 16 inches of water in 2015, the tail end of a four-year drought, and rebounded to 36 inches last year. This year, the Tuolumne watershed has received 200 percent of its average amount of rain and snow, and the river already has carried 2 million acre-feet of water – about as much as Don Pedro Reservoir holds for MID and TID, when it’s full.
The May 23 MID meeting is expected to start at 9 a.m. in the board room at 1231 11th St., Modesto.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390