The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors approved a resolution on Tuesday that will more than double water rates for irrigation customers through the district.
The resolution, which was passed unanimously by the Board, will increase the blended charge in a normal year from $8.25 per acre-foot to $17.50 per acre-foot.
Per the changed rate schedule, volumetric charges will remain the same in their tier system, however the fixed charge per acre will increase from $23 to $60 in a normal year.
For example, in previous average years, it would cost a 40-acre parcel $1,320 to irrigate with 48 inches of water; that numbers increases to $2,800 with the rate hike.
Charges in dry years, such as the one farmers just experienced, will also increase as part of the newly approved rate schedule.
The fixed charge per acre in a dry year will increase from $26 to $68, or a blended charge increase of $15.50 per acre-foot to $36.50 per acre-foot.
TID used to be the second lowest in the area, behind only Modesto Irrigation District, however Tou Her, TID Assistant General Manager of Water Resources, said other districts in the area have either increased or are in talks to increase their rates.
Despite the increase, TID’s rate hike to $17.50 per acre-foot will be $20 less than Patterson Irrigation District ($37.50 per acre-foot) and $38.50 less than Merced Irrigation District ($56 per acre-foot).
The proposed rate increase was originally discussed in August of 2014 at a TID Board workshop. That workshop was followed by two growers meetings hosted on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Then, on Nov. 20, the public rate hearing was scheduled and public notices were sent out to all parcel owners in the district.
Parcel owners had 45 days, or until Jan. 13 at 9 a.m., to submit their letter protesting the rate hike; if a majority of parcel owners had protested the rate hike, TID would have been unable to move forward with the increase.
However, according to Brad Koehn, TID Civil Engineering Department Manager, only 120 of the 8,469, or about 1.4 percent, parcel owners protested the hike.
“We received considerably less than majority of protestors,” said Koehn.
The many farmers and parcel owners in attendance were very upset about the rate hike and questioned the small amount of protests received by TID.
Koehn mentioned that 23 of the 120 protests were received between 8 and 9 a.m. the morning of the public rate hearing. One farmer mentioned that he delivered 21 of those letters that morning.
Those in attendance also had questions about the amount of parcels compared to parcel owners, as some people own multiple parcels. Koehn explained that parcel owners received a letter for each parcel owned and they were able to submit a protest for each parcel and TID needed to receive protests from the majority of parcels; the 120 protests received were parcel protests, not necessarily 120 individuals.
Despite the lack of needed protests, those in attendance of the public rate hearing stood united against the rate hike and offered many solutions to the hike.
The rate hike comes from the need to not only make up for an average $1.5 million revenue shortfall in irrigation delivery over the last 10 years, but also several projects including the Lateral 8 Reservoir (estimated to cost $2.3 million) and SBx 7-7 (estimated to cost $10,922,262) projects.
Local farmers and parcel owners offered compromises to funding the projects, including paying the increase for the next five years and then paying off the “pet projects,” as one local farmer in attendance described them.
However, Koehn and the Board of Directors mentioned that some of the projects need funding for two years, while some up to 30 years.
Director Joe Alamo did mentioned that the board would revisit the rate hike in less than five years to ensure it is still needed.
Director Michael Frantz also chimed in, adding mentioning that the rate increase was about a big picture and not just the right now.
“It’s incumbent on this body, this agency, to do our very best to make sure that every drop of water that comes from the heavens is put to good use,” said Frantz. “… The big picture is we’re trying to look at the next 50 years, the next 100 years and say ‘what do we need to do today to put our best foot forward for the next 100 years.’”
Frantz also added, before the Board of Directors took their vote, that he personally would have supported a smaller fixed charge with increased volumetric charges, but that was not shared opinion of the rest of the board.
“I’m willing to go along with the majority because I think, in general, what we’re trying to accomplish is the right thing to do,” said Frantz.
Director Charlie Fernandes offered the resolution and Alamo seconded before the Board of Directors unanimously approved the resolution 5-0.
The rate changes will become effective later this year.