Farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District will pay 10 percent more for their water than last year, the agency's board decided Tuesday.
The 3-2 vote also means a 10 percent hike in what the city of Modesto pays for MID water that it treats for domestic use there and in several other communities. This is not expected to have an immediate effect on domestic rates, a city official said.
The MID's increase will take effect with the start of the 2008 irrigation season, likely next week. The basic charge per acre will be $23.50, up from $21.50.
That will entitle a farmer to 36 inches of water over the season, enough to sustain most crops. Water beyond that will be at an even higher rate, to encourage conservation.
The MID staff said the increase was needed to continue narrowing the gap between income from water users and the cost of operating the canals.
Directors Mike Serpa, Paul Warda and Tom Van Groningen voted in favor. Cecil Hensley and John Kidd dissented.
Hensley said the water hike would be too much of a burden on farmers, who already are paying 10 percent more for MID electricity this year.
Kidd said the snowpack feeding the canals is ample this year, meaning a lot of hydroelectric power, which improves the district's finances.
Under state law, the rate increase would have been blocked if a majority of the roughly 2,900 farmland owners in the district objected. Only 10 of them protested in writing before Tuesday's public hearing, and none spoke during it.
The board did hear from attorney Richard Harriman of Modesto, who monitors the district. He said the MID does not charge enough to encourage conservation, and the low rates could be questioned by Southern California legislators eager to get more water.
The MID's 36-inch basic allocation for 2008 is six inches less than the staff had recommended. That earlier proposal reflected modest improvement in the water supply over last year, but Serpa said he was concerned about a projection that Don Pedro Reservoir will be drawn relatively low by this fall.
"What happens if we allow extra water usage and have a dry year next year?" he said. "We'd be in another hole."
Kidd supported a 42-inch allocation, which has been the level in 12 of the past 18 years. He said some of the extra water seeps deep into the ground, helping recharge aquifers that have been reduced by heavy well pumping.
"I know we've gotten results from recharge," Kidd said. "It's been proven many times."
The city of Modesto gets part of its water from wells, the rest from the MID's system on the Tuolumne River. Under its contract with the district, the city pays the same as farmers do for untreated water.
These charges are a small part of the cost of domestic water, which includes treatment to remove contaminants and distribution by pipeline. Even with the MID increase, river water will be cheaper than well water, said Allen Lagarbo, acting city public works director.
The city system also supplies Empire, Salida, Waterford, Hickman, Grayson, Del Rio and small parts of Ceres and Turlock.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.