Facing down a limited water supply, two consecutive critically dry years, and farmers' complaints of dying crops, Turlock Irrigation District Directors reluctantly agreed to purchase irrigation water from the Modesto Irrigation District on Tuesday.
MID directors were unanimous in authorizing the sale Tuesday morning. But TID directors were less than unanimous in accepting the water, voicing concerns that the water transfer could result in myriad problems for the district's future plans.
“I think there's so many other things at play, and that's why I have such a substantial problem here,” TID Director Ron Macedo said. “… For one quick fix, you're risking so many things going forward.”
The water transfer agreement will put a value on the districts' water – $100 per acre-foot – Macedo argued. That could make it easier for other agencies to compare TID's water with their own.
And the fact that MID has excess water to sell after two critically dry years could also pose a problem to the districts, which co-own Don Pedro Reservoir. The sale could make the argument that the districts are withholding too much water, and should devote some of that excess water to environmental needs.
Macedo initially moved to table discussion on the sale, but his motion failed for lack of a second.
The time to act was now, other directors said, as they approved the sale by a 4-1 vote. By offering the additional water at cost, some growers may be able to save water-starved crops by squeezing in one last irrigation.
“I just can't imagine, in a critically dry year, turning down available water,” said TID Board of Directors Chair Michael Frantz.
Per the terms of the agreement, TID will pay $100 per acre-foot of irrigation water. MID will make available up to 7,000 acre-feet of water, though TID is under no obligation to purchase that much.
TID growers who choose to take deliveries of MID water will pay the true, $100 per acre-foot cost to obtain the water. TID currently charges growers between $2 and $20 per acre-foot of water, depending on the amount used; this year, TID growers would pay $37.50 to obtain the full, 34 acre-inches of available water.
“Our customers will pay for what they use,” said Tou Her, TID Assistant General Manager of Water Resources.
It remains to be seen how TID customers would order the MID water. A first-come, first-served approach would likely not work, as state water code requires equal water allocations.
TID may instead offer a two-week window to place orders, then distribute a pro-rated amount of water to growers should more water be ordered than is available. For example, if 14,000 acre-feet of water was ordered, growers could receive half of their order.
A subcommittee comprised of Macedo, TID Director Charles Fernandes, and district staff will hammer out the details of water distribution. The water will not be available for at least 35 days, due to state water transfer law.
TID estimates that about 20,000 acres may take advantage of the extra water, translating into 4.2 inches per acre – about one full irrigation. If only 10,000 acres purchase water, they could receive 8.4 inches, or two full irrigations.
Or, Fernandes mused, no one may purchase the water, rendering the argument over precedents and environmental concerns moot.
“We may find out that no one is willing to pay $100 per acre-foot of water,” Fernandes said.