For the second meeting in a row the Modesto Irrigation District Board had a spirited debate, completely without rancor, which included several diverse positions. After the Boards of Tom VanGroningen and Allen Short it truly is like a breath of fresh air. Now if only the actions and decisions were different.
Jumping right into it: The conversation started regarding the DRAFT Drought Operation Rules proposed by staff.The proposed Transfer Policy was a complete reversal of what was decided at the last meeting which took place on Feb. 11, 2014. You can watch it here starting at 59 minutes, in the agenda it’s the ‘Drought workshop. You can forward to 1:18 to listen to the public debate. At 1:36 you can hear the unusual banding together of Mensinger and myself. At 2:11 you can listen to Nick Blom argue the exact opposite position he voted for at today’s meeting. http://mid.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=24&meta_id=1689 you can advance through the short sound issues without missing anything.
The topic centered on deciding on how water transfers would be handled, and who would be allowed to transfer their water. At the time I supported the idea of farmers being allowed to sell their water to anyone. I was behind Director Mensinger in his opinion. But we lost the argument convincingly. Yet today the DRAFT proposal supported this same position. So why did staff bring a proposal that lost, forward as potential policy? A look around the room and then listening to public comment gave us some clues. The Chamber trotted out Chamber Board of Directors member Ruben Villalobos in support of the grower to grower transfers. What does Ruben know about water transfers? Absolutely nothing. But when Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Cecil Russell calls Ruben, Ruben says yes Cecil, and trots on over. Bill Lyons Jr. was sitting in the audience making sure the actors in our little play performed as they were instructed otherwise he would tell daddy on them. To cut to the chase they wanted to allow farmers to sell their MID allocated water of 18″ inches per acre.
Larry Byrd and Jake Wenger wanted to limit the transfers to family and were encouraging an incentive to farmers to decide to return the allocated water to MID. Jake wanted $400 per acre and Larry $100 per acre as an incentive, to be distributed to other interested farmers and encourage the sharing of water if a farmer had other supplies (pumping). Unfortunately the establishment of the incentive plan came after the ‘Transfer’ issue was resolved and may have been a mute point.
Much to the dismay of many in the room, Nick Blom decided to go with the self- described ‘city boys’ and voted for growers to be able to sell to anyone. It’s a extremely intricate issue and not one lending itself to simple explanations. It’s understandable for farmers to want to help each other and no one is really against that. The overreaching concern is a few of the wealthier farmers will be able to out bid smaller farmers and the smaller farmers might go under, not that the Chamber of Commerce would mind.
An attorney from Ripon (Stacey Henderson) claimed to be representing several small farmers decided to insert the term lottery into the mix. It seemed like she took the opportunity to unduly influence the issue since this word was no where to be seen in the staff’s proposal. Later during a break and in private conversation she upbraided me for characterizing her comments as spin. She said if I had any question I should ask her first. So I did and she walked away without saying a word. Someone from Ripon is getting paid to influence our decisions. Just like a lawyer/lobbyist making suggestions they had no intention on following through on. Just more paid for testimony from my point of view. We see lots of that at the MID.
Were strings being pulled and Directors were dancing to the Chamber’s and Bill Lyons tune? This time it’s the farmers not the ratepayers who will pay.
On another note, Modesto City Councilmen Bill Zoslocki and Dave Cogdill just authorized MID to spend up to $504,000 on a study of the rim fire area. Consequently, our rates will be going up at a time when the Council wants to forgive Seneca Foods an $8 Million fine they incurred by generating excessive waste water, causing Modesto to settle a lawsuit costing up to $1 Million.
I wonder when the City Council will get around to telling us?