Water sale?

Liberty Cut. Photo by Heather Webb, USFWS, Pacific Southwest Region

“The transaction wouldn’t be unprecedented:  Twenty years ago, the district sold some 5,000 acre-feet to San Francisco during a drought period for $45 per acre-foot.”

When an irrigation district talks about selling off some of its water, hackles are sure to rise. That’s the case in Modesto, where water officials are in discussions with San Francisco about a potential sale that  would allow The City to divert water into Hetch Hetchy.

The Modesto Irrigation District expects to have some surplus water from the Tuolumne River captured in a few small reservoirs and it is studying a potential sale to see if it makes sense.

Just how much water for how much money isn’t being disclosed.  Over the next two decades, San Francisco expects to have a shortfall of 27,500 acre-feet, and it wants to make up that shortage somehow. Some of the water could come from districts like Modesto’s, although other obvious options include desalination and recycling.

But in California, the fear of drought is ever-present, even after a good water year like the one we just had, and thoughts of relinquishing water inevitably bring strong reactions. That’s the case in Modesto, where some farmers want the water to be used to recharge dwindling groundwater supplies or to remain for food production. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are concerned at tapping the Tuolumne River.

According to John Holland’s detailed account in the Modesto Bee, the immediate financial incentives for MID are strong.

And the transaction wouldn’t be unprecedented:  Twenty years ago, the district sold some 5,000 acre-feet to San Francisco during a drought period for $45 per acre-foot. Since the MID’s farmers pay some $6.75 per acre-foot, the transaction was good financially for Modesto’s district, which stores most of its water in the Don Pedro Reservoir.

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