The wheels of government grind exceedingly slowly at times, or so it seems to many who want and need help. So when we see elected officials responding to the concerns of the public, we applaud.
Two actions taken Tuesday – one by the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors and one by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors – show that our elected officials are not only listening, they are responding. No doubt, some would prefer they both move faster; others, just as certainly, would prefer no action at all. That’s why such processes take so long.
But in these two cases, we appear on the road to getting something done.
MID rate increase delayed
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The MID Board of Directors went beyond our expectations, voting not only to delay a rate increase in electricity rates but also to examine the premises staff provided for suggesting those increases. As we said a week ago (“MID must make water pay its own way,” Our View), the board should evaluate its budget to see if all costs are appropriately allocated. The cost to generate power – natural gas, turbine maintenance, etc. – should be borne by electricity users only. But the cost of delivering water from behind Don Pedro Dam should be borne by those who profit from it – mainly (but not exclusively) farmers.
Some costs that should be shared have been pushed entirely to one side or another of the ledger – electric or water. The example we provided Sunday was the cost of federal relicensing of Don Pedro’s power generation. MID’s share of that $50 million project is roughly $16 million, and electric ratepayers are being asked to cover it all. Since a great deal of that work is being used to justify flows to farmers, we say they should pay at least a portion.
There might be other such misallocations on MID’s ledgers; it’s clear the directors want to find them.
They’re also likely to find that farmers haven’t been getting credit for items such as allowing MID canals to be used for storm runoff and extensive groundwater recharge in certain areas. This, too, should be taken into account – an idea advanced by hydrologist Vance Kennedy. The board appears to be responsive and headed in the right direction.
By changing its language in its groundwater ordinance, and putting further requirements on well permits, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors took a positive step Tuesday.
Even so, a lot of well-meaning people believe the barn door is closing with the horse nowhere in sight. When it became clear there was a groundwater rush underway, we called for a moratorium on new permits. Instead, the county went through its deliberate process in an effort to balance the needs of agriculture and those of residents affected by falling groundwater levels. That said, making those who drill new wells responsible for any effect on a neighbor’s well is a significant and important step in curbing overpumping.
Removing language about “groundwater mining” might have been a mistake, but requiring that all use be “sustainable” was important. The supervisors appear to be aligning Stanislaus County’s rules with those of the state’s new groundwater sustainability laws. Those rules have the force of law whether some grower groups like it or not. And judges are edging ever closer to declaring groundwater a shared resource that cannot be exploited by those with the most powerful pumps.
As is the case with MID, there is much left to do. Any permits not yet approved should reflect the changes. And the county will eventually have to address pumping within water district boundaries. After all, water districts own more and bigger pumps than any individuals; excluding them from oversight doesn’t make sense.
Yes, Stanislaus County supervisors and the MID Board of Directors took important steps this week – steps that could put both electricity users and those who rely on wells on a better path.
Neither board will be accused of moving quickly, but they are both moving. And in the right direction.