By Emerson Drake
Is there anything we take more for granted in our daily lives than flipping on a switch and having the lights turn on or turning on a faucet to get a drink of water? The conversation today is to decide how best to keep these things we take for granted available and affordable and who best to support for the MID Board this election season. We go to as many MID meetings as possible and watch the rest on line to best understand what’s going on. We even listened to the Bee’s forum to be able to see and hear the candidates answering questions side by side as it were.
As usual several of the people running for the Board haven’t been close (the closest they’ve been to MID is paying their electric bill) to understanding the intricacies of what MID does other than moving the switches and faucets mentioned earlier. MID is facing several tough issues than must be addressed fairly for all and candidates without a clue will cost us, you and me, the ratepayers dearly. A couple are so closely aligned to special interest groups that no amount of facts, meaning understanding the hard truths they/we are facing, will ever allow them to serve us best.
Her are a few hard facts. Currently MID’s electric rates revolve around the cost of natural gas. We’ve been fortunate for several years that the cost of gas was cheap. Thanks to the fact our country went from an importer to the biggest exporter in the world, the cost of natural gas has sky rocketed forty percent in the last year alone. The plant in Lodi we have partial ownership in and our local Peaker Plants all run on natural gas. The current drought doesn’t seem to want to go away and these droughts have become more and more frequent.
Because of the current lawsuit, which MID lost but is appealing, they refuse to talk about the cost of water. But those who’ve been attending meetings for years remember when the Board supplied that important information. During an earlier drought, when allotments were reduced the Board decided they had enough water to sell additional water to farmers. The cost stated was $55.00 an acre foot. Normally we sell water to farmers for $16.25 per acre foot. As you can see there is a significant cost difference. A large shortfall for the water side.
In the years just before the lawsuit the MID Board had been slowly raising the water rates to recover part of the shortfall, estimated at $8M.
Some, but not all of the electric ratepayers had been making up the difference. Big businesses had been given ‘time of use rates’. The electricity used by these businesses was given such a reduced rate it was actually below MID’s cost. Several years ago there were approximately 112 of these businesses. Most of these but not all were located south of Yosemite avenue in Modesto in Beard industrial Park. The other major one is Gallo industries not all of which are in the Beard Industrial Park. Gallo in 2015 saved over $8 Million dollars according to a Modesto Bee article written by Garth Stapley.
I remind everyone about all the balls MID is juggling so we can better understand the pressure special interest groups are bringing to our doorstep during this election. MID’s own study in 2016 said the MID subsidizes big business, both electrical and water, higher than any electric company in central California and nothing has changed.
The lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2016. When Stu Gilman ran for, and was elected to, the MID Board in 2017, his main platform to his potential constituents was to get them a rebate for the overcharge for water and electricity. Immediately after taking office Stu voted join the rest of the Board in claiming the profits from the sales of electricity to MID customers was discretionary income not electrical profits. How can you trust a man who breaks his pledge to both his church’s congregation (House Modesto) and to everyone in his district?
It’s easy to envision the special interest groups circling MID’s Boardroom. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce were and still are having heart palpations. The Farm Bureau, the Chamber, and Bill Lyons have vested interests, albeit greedy ones. The Farm Bureau doesn’t want higher water rates and the Chamber doesn’t want higher electric rates for its big businesses and Bill Lyons, like selling water.
How bad was/is the situation? From Garth’s article:
A Modesto Bee analysis of bond documents in June showed that MID saw a $106 million profit selling electricity in 2014, while farmers paid less than 17 percent of what it costs MID to deliver water, even after a series of irrigation rate bumps in recent years.
So who is left to pay the bills? Over 100,000 families and small businesses. Can the average family or small business afford to pay for the Gallo’s electricity or bear the brunt for farm water?
Should we sell our water to pay our bills?
Modesto’s aquifer, also know as Modesto’s basin, is running a water deficit of 100,000 acre feet a year. Without water recharge our water level will keep getting lower and lower. We’ve read about family wells running dry and deeper wells and or new wells have to be dug. The central valley gets nine inches of rain in an average year. Almonds and our green lawns both take about four feet of water to flourish. The water in Don Pedro is what maintains our life styles. We’ve witnessed to our south in Kern County and others how ignoring water levels causes ground levels to drop and aquifers to collapse and they can’t be repaired.
The truth is we don’t have any water to spare to sell. We need to store every acre foot we can and recharge, (put back into the ground) the rest. Anything else is short sighted and robbing our children’s future.
So lets talk about the candidates.
It’s really about who can we trust to make the hard decisions.
MID District 3
Nick Dokoozlian? He bragged during the debate that he was the only candidate who received both the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement. Both of these entities are determined to keep you and I paying their electric and water bills without any changes. Or they’ll be like current Board member Paul Campbell and take their money and move to another state. We don’t believe being a Board of Supervisor field representative and political stand-in prepares anyone for the MID Board. So he’s a definite NO.
Nick’s opponent is Robert Frobose. A farmer who understands water conservation and was penalized by the Farm Bureau for standing up for Linda Santos against OID’s water sales outside the district. He’s a reasonable man who understands how much our water means to our future and how it’s time to take a close look at MID’s past practices. He’s earned and deserves our support.
MID District 2
Janice Keating? Janice, a contentious former Modesto City Councilmember, took from the then MID Board funneled through another company and spoke out in favor of selling our water to San Francisco back during the Board’s attempted bailout in 2011. Here’s Garth’s story detailing the events. The MID Board’s city boys with the help of the Chamber of Commerce tried to bail themselves out of a financial hole and were willing to use ratepayer money to pay for support. It was Larry Byrd, Nick Blom and Paul Warda that saved our water that year. The two city boys were desperate to sell the water to cover up their ineptitude and it was the farmers on the Board that saved our water. So she’s a definite NO.
Frank Damrell is her opponent. Frank has been going to MID meetings to understand the intricacies of the Board. He isn’t waiting like his opponent to roll up his sleeves and get involved with budget process. He understands everyone is going to need to be engaged in resolving MID’s issues and has the experience and the gravitas to fit right in. He’s against subsidies and deserves our support.
MID District 4
We discussed Stu Gilman’s many short comings earlier when he pulled a 180 degree reversal and after promising rebates on the campaign trail he he fell in lock step with special interests. Strangely enough he touts his support for the farmer to farmer water sales which benefited his favorite special interest, Bill Lyons. He supported Bill”s many interests by pushing what many refer to water mining, by using wells along the river to sell water out of MID’s district. When you pump water from underneath a river some suggest you’re stealing water from those down stream. There are several PRR, or Public Record Requests attempting to discover just how much water has been involved, but reportedly Lyons’ has made over $8 Million from these sales. Unfortunately MID is delaying releasing this information until closer to the election. Stu Gilman is a definite NO.
John Boer is the candidate we know least about. He understands how important water is to Modesto and Stanislaus County. He’s a volunteer fireman and farmer. While he may be the least polished he’s at least hard working, honest and will make up his own mind and not be swayed by special interests. He deserves a chance to prove himself and our support.
We support Frank Damrell, Robert Frobose, and John Boer as being in MID’s, along with yours and our, best interest.
District 2 Frank Damrell
District 3 Robert Frobose
District 4 John Boer