Farmers questioned the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) selling water to San Francisco, communication between Water Distribution Operators (WDO’s), TID management, and farmers, along with discussing other concerns regarding the TID Water Operations Plan 2010 General Manager Larry Weis presented to the TID Board of Directors.
Irrigation customer service and communication improvements are in the plans for 2010 including WDO’s ability to call in water orders to Call Center for customers, WDO’s returning to 12 hour days on weekends, vehicle based computers for WDO’s will be budgeted for 2011 with system development completed in 2010, and options for internet water ordering will be developed in 2010.
At TID meetings, people aren’t required to come to a podium and state their name for public record but rather just raise their hand (sometimes) and speak candidly from their seats.
Many issues came from farmers regarding the WDO’s (otherwise known as ditch tenders) including the WDO’s inability to use their own discretion regarding water delivery because of management’s control, the lack of accountability by management for poor communication, GPS put on WDO’s vehicles like they have to be babysat or limited to how they can serve customers, and more.
TID President Rob Santos was concerned with the inability to resolve customers’ needs in a timely manner and addressed the lack of communication between TID management, the WDO’s, and the farmers.
TID General Manager Larry Weis stated that management needs to know about problems before they can address them, suggesting these concerns were not reaching him. Weis also simply said that the public meeting was not the time or the place for him to discuss personnel issues.
Someone from the audience sternly stated that Weis was then going to at least listen to the audience speak about it.
As far as questions regarding TID selling water, GM Larry Weis said “TID has never entered into any traditional water sales agreements with outside agencies.”
Weis then went on to explain that in 1995 TID joined a multi-party federally mediated agreement with MID and the City and County of San Francisco between fish agencies to provide water to increase river flows. MID and TID provide water in exchange for $3.5 million.
Most of the audience considered this selling water and one member of the audience questioned why last year two TID Directors said that TID had not sold water in 30 years and how Weis sat in the meeting while not clarifying also.
Weis stated that those were his bosses, there’s a time to speak or not, and that he didn’t want to lose his job.
TID Director Joe Alamo also brought to light, for reasons of transparency, two scenarios involving water distribution agreements that may be perceived as selling water. Weis clarified that one scenario was a legal lawsuit settlement and that the other was that water is sold to east side farmers in good years when TID’s customers don’t have caps on their water allotments.
In summary, the real issue was really transparency.
TID plans to increase the spill into rivers from 4.3 percent of water delivered through the canal system, nearly 24,000 acre feet, to 8.2 percent that totals 51,000 acre feet.
An Irrigation Operation Committee, comprised of TID Directors Joe Alamo and Ron Macedo, has been meeting with growers to work on irrigation efficiency and began with desires to reach 0 percent spillage.
TID Director Michael Frantz questioned increasing spill by almost double to appease some people who would like more water available.
TID Director Frantz stated his own general philosophy was that he didn’t like spill at all and that going from 4 percent to 8 percent just because of possible communication issues in water deliveries seemed like an over-reaction.
“I understand when we run more water through, everybody is happier,” said Frantz. “But what if there was a drought the next three years, I’ll feel that I’ll be the guy who blessed the increase in allotment or the increase in the way operation ran.”
TID Director Joe Alamo clarified that currently TID is basically pulling water out of the ground to save spill.
Audience members said that they could call Director Frantz in situations they’ve faced that last three years when they were waiting at 2am with no water.
GM Larry Weis clarified that is not to appease people but that it could be looked at as an engineered estimate of what it takes to run the system of flexibility so that we can allow the bottom end of the system to have as much water available as possible to growers.
Weis explained that this can be analyzed year to year, even week to week, so that if the plan’s not working it can be changed.
The Water Operations Plan 2010 presentation ended acknowledging many changes to be implemented, many concerns noted, and with a suggestion by TID Director Frantz of using email lists of farmers as a more efficient way of communicating (with members from the audience agreeing since most have iPhones).