Some Modesto Irrigation District farmers quickly using water shares

A line from Tuesday morning’s Modesto Irrigation District board report – “Growers are beginning to run out of water” – might sound more alarming than the situation really is.

It’s true that halfway through this year’s irrigation season, 80 farmers have used more than 65 percent of their MID shares; of those, 38 have used at least 75 percent of what they’ve got coming this year.

But 80 farmers represents only 2.6 percent of MID’s 3,100 customers. And some crops may require more water early in the season. And many growers probably have sources other than district canals, including private wells and MID’s new drought-year programs.

The innovative programs allow farmers to buy and sell shares of MID water, on the open market or for a fixed price. Growers also can pump from private wells into district canals in exchange for extra MID allocations.

All customers have received district notices reminding them of transfer options as well as how much water they’ve used.

This morning’s report will say MID can count on about 170,000 acre-feet left in Don Pedro and Modesto reservoirs, or 54 percent of what was stored at the same point last year. Aside from transfer programs, farmers this year are getting less than half the water of a normal year.

Also today, the MID board is expected to change the way it tells people about the district’s energy production.

Since 1997, California law has required that utilities hire independent auditors to verify electricity generation sources in public “Power Content Label” reports due by October, costing MID about $30,000 each year. A recent switch allows the district to skip the process as long as the MID board “attests to the veracity” of a similar report to state officials.

Data from 2013 suggests MID is far ahead of other utilities in California on complying with renewable energy mandates, with 26 percent of the district’s output from such sources – almost all in windmills – compared with 15 percent elsewhere in the state. Also, MID gets 3 percent of its electricity from solar panels compared with 1 percent in other utilities.

However, MID got 16 percent from burning coal, a comparatively dirty source and double the average for other utilities. Burning natural gas accounted for a quarter of MID’s output, compared with 43 percent for other utilities.

Today’s board meeting will start at 9 a.m. in the district chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto. For more information, visit www.mid.org/about/board/agenda.