Busy MID agenda includes water rate hike

Modesto-area farmers on Tuesday should learn how much water prices will go up and whether they’ll be able to buy or sell water shares to help cope with the drought.

The Modesto Irrigation District board will conclude a weeks-long process with a public hearing and a vote on raising water rates. They could go up as much as 40 percent, but some board members have hinted that is too much, while critics contend it would represent a small step in the right direction.

If the board were to opt for the maximum and also triple that amount, the revenue still would cover only 39 percent of MID’s costs to provide farmers with irrigation. Meanwhile, the district overcharges its 113,000 electricity customers about $44 million a year, with proceeds covering the water side, paying off debts and building savings.

Raising prices 40 percent would have farmers paying about the same as they did last year, when MID imposed a special drought surcharge of nearly $12 per acre. District management wants another surcharge this year but has not said how much the board will be asked to approve.

The board also is poised to formally acknowledge the four-year drought, leaving its Don Pedro Reservoir at one of its lowest levels in history and anticipating delivering farmers a record-low 16 inches of water per acre. In a normal year, they get 42 inches.

Last year, the board allowed farmers to peddle water shares among themselves on the open market and also managed a transfer program among willing buyers and sellers at the fixed price of $400 per acre-foot. The board Tuesday will consider continuing those programs with some modifications.

MID last year also offered to buy groundwater put into canals by private pumps, but incentives were low and only three people agreed. This year, the district will try luring participants with promises of more river water to sellers, and will fix any well harmed by MID.

The board meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto. For more information, go to http://mid.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=1&event_id=168.

Several growers have attacked proposed revisions to rules governing irrigation practices, including termination of water rights if farmers don’t provide ditch tenders carte-blanche access to private property. MID initially said the matter would resurface at Tuesday’s board meeting, but managers changed their minds and will hold a second round of springtime grower meetings to discuss rules, set for 9 a.m. Thursday at 151 G St. in Waterford, and at 5:30 p.m. March 31 at 1231 11th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.