SSJID raises water rates for higher-volume farmers

A board vote Tuesday raised water rates for higher-volume users in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

The change, which will affect about a third of the district’s farmers, still leaves them with one of the cheapest sources in the San Joaquin Valley.

The board voted 4-0, with Ralph Roos absent, to add a rate tier to encourage conservation. All farmers pay $24 per acre each year, plus $3 for each 12 inches of water applied to the land. Users will pay $10 for each 12 inches in excess of 48 inches.

The drought forced a 36-inch cap this year, but 32 percent of customers used more than 48 inches last year. The change could prompt them to conserve over the long term, said Bere Lindley, SSJID assistant general manager.

Under state law, the increase would have been blocked by protests from a majority of the 2,064 property owners. Only 20 protests were received.

Board member John Holbrook noted that some California farmers have paid more than $500 per acre-foot during the drought.

The SSJID has kept its rates low in large part because of hydropower from four plants it shares with the Oakdale Irrigation District, although output is down because of the dry conditions.

The SSJID already had extra charges in its southwest area to cover the cost of a pressurized system that replaced gravity-fed canals and pipelines.

The board Tuesday also heard a grim warning about 2016 supplies for the district, which provides Stanislaus River water to about 55,000 acres around Ripon, Escalon and Manteca.

New Melones Reservoir is projected to hold about 276,000 acre-feet as the irrigation season nears an end, just 12 percent of its capacity. SSJID and OID each have a right to up to 300,000 acre-feet when available, but that depends on the weather.

“As you can see, we have got to get rain this winter,” said Jeff Shields, who is retiring as general manager at SSJID. “We have burned through the safety net.”

Monday was the first day for new General Manager Peter Rietkerk, who has run the Patterson Irrigation District for the past five years. Shields will help with the transition through Oct. 16.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve the growers here,” Rietkirk said at the meeting’s start.

John Holland: 209-578-2385