Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

MID: The Water Wars Continue

By Emerson Drake

We thought the water wars were over but in fact we’re in the middle of another one. As always in an organization as large and important as the MID or Modesto Irrigation District is, there is lots of room for shenanigans. And if you throw the OID or Oakdale Irrigation District in, well then things get much more interesting.

In both organizations we have three Directors that want to sell water outside of the Stanislaus Basin and two that don’t. In MID and OID memories of the water wars of 10 or so years ago are still fresh. The public uproar to the attempted sales burned them so in their opinion it’s vital that everything go smoothly. Remember how the drought brought the Dom Pedro Reservoir down to the size of a creek? Last year our rainfall was half of normal. And the water levels have been falling throughout the OID and farmers have needed to drill deeper to ensure their water supply.

OID wants to sell water to Brisbane instead of re-charging the aquifer and they need MID’s canals to do it. Everybody sees the Merced Irrigation District ready to sell water for $300 per acre foot and the salivating starts. OID’s past Brisbane water conversations have been centering around a 50 year agreement followed by a 25 year agreement at $500 an acre foot. OID attorney Tim O’laughlin was MID’s attorney for the attempted water sales to San Francisco, and is now the OID attorney and also represents Mahi Pono in Hawaii. Most will remember them as Trinitas before they were sold and expanded. O’Laughlin has a history of promoting water sales for Districts where the resident owners (both MID and OID are publicly owned utilities) haven’t always agreed with the sales. Hence the obvious need to control the Boards majorities.

OID has subsidized its farmers by selling water in the past but the falling water tables from 55 to 90 feet have opened many eyes. Some of the farmers we’ve talked with within the OID service area are willing to pay more to keep the water local. The water underground is like a savings account for everyone but OID seems to be willing to gamble everyone’s future for what could end up being pocket change today. It makes it easier to get reelected.

MID uses the electric side to subsidize their water to farmers but they also use residential electric customers to subsidize the cost of electricity for big companies like Gallo and those south of Yosemite. But they have a power broker/farmer/developer in Bill Lyons, who for years called the tune for MID’s Directors to dance to. After Directors Blom and Byrd and later Jake Winger were elected, that stopped. After Stu Gilman was elected and then turned his back on his constituents everything started to go back in the power broker/developer Bill Lyons favor. To my knowledge Bill Lyons is the only one who pays for two lobbyist/lawyers Stacy Henderson and Bob Fores to sit in the gallery meeting after meeting, or more recently on zoom to manipulate the outcomes, many for his advantage.

At the September 22nd meeting John Mensinger, Stu Gilman, and Paul Campbell were waiting to attack Larry Byrd with the help of Lyons lobbyist/lawyers hired minions, Stacy Henderson and Bob Fores.

The Board’s attorney, Wes Miliband and Interim General Manager Ed Franciosa, needed to get together to put on the last minute addition so the Brown Act presentation wasn’t officially on the agenda. The attorney said it was the first time he’d made a public Brown Act presentation in the 10 years he’s been with the MID. They were setting the table for the plotted ambush.

As soon as the non-agendized Brown Act presentation was completed Director Byrd made a short statement and then Stu Gilman jumped in. Then John Mensinger interrupted Board President Campbell to sic Stacy Henderson, followed immediately by Bob Fores, on Director Byrd.

Now the Brown Act says one Director may talk with another but the majority, in this case three, Directors can’t discuss the same topic in private. I encourage everyone to watch the video of this session and decide for themselves if these three were, well let’s be nice, and call it on the same page. Of course the outside lawyer for MID and the General Manager needed to know what was going on especially with this the presentation not originally act being on the agenda. Public Record Requests have been made but MID’s lawyer insisted on an extension which will have the requested documents arriving after the next scheduled meeting. Surprised?

The strange thing is these, should we say possible conspirators, were preparing to say that Director Byrd might have allowed someone to be present in his truck during closed session, in itself a potential Brown Act violation. Director Byrd completely denied the allegation.

At about 2:12 into the meeting Director Mensinger starts raising his voice demanding that this be brought to the next open meeting. When Director Mensinger said “we want to agendize this for discussion and action“, who is we? Was it John Mensinger, Stu Gilman, and Paul Campbell? Were the three Board members acting in collusion?

Wouldn’t that act itself be a Brown Act violation?

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