By Emerson Drake
Ahhh secrets, several years ago they were the meat and potatoes of MID’s existence. Why respond to public record requests if you don’t have to? Most recently we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of MID’s farmer to farmer water transfer program and the Return Allocation Program by requesting the names of those selling water and the amounts. Unfortunately time and time again we’ve been refused access to these records of a public resource. When MID’s staff announced they were going to hold private meetings with those same farmers who participated in last years programs we adamantly argued against such secrecy. Unfortunately the Board remained silent. When we threatened to go public staff relented by saying they were going to contact all irrigators. But you and I know who they are going to listen to, all you have top do is follow the money. When Directors John Mensinger and Paul Campbell originally started pushing hard for these programs you had to wonder why. After all these two Directors, who publicly call themselves the “City Boys,” were promoting a ‘farmer to farmer’ program which, of the actual farmers on the Board, two weren’t supporting and one was just willing to listen and eventually supported. The self-proclaimed “city boys” seemed out of their bailiwick. After all Campbell and Mensinger spend much of their time attacking the water irrigation price structure. But maybe there was a reason.
Two $5,000 Campaign Donations
The two largest campaign donations by far came from Bill Lyons to these two men (Mensinger and Campbell). But why would Bill Lyons decide it was to his benefit to have his political puppets push so hard to pass the Farmer to Farmer Transfer Program? In a Garth Stapley article of 4/22/14, Mr. Lyons claimed he was responsible for 54% of the 1,060 acre feet of water in the Return Allocation Program, which in the end delivered a check to Mr. Lyons of at least $ 302,400 and likely more. Unfortunately MID has decided to keep the actual amount and recipients a secret from the very public that own the company. But his big killing, monetarily, was in the Farmer to Farmer Transfers. Irrigation_Operations_Report
Lyons Sweetheart Deal
Unbeknownst to most of the public Bill Lyons and Mapes Ranch negotiated the rights to pump for FREE any water that comes down MID’s canal that cuts through his property going to the river. His is the only entity with the ability to steal this public resource. Maybe this was one of the reasons he and his then puppets, Tom VanGroningen and Glen Wild, were pushing the water sale to San Francisco. Maybe Bill Lyons envisioned acting as a toll booth collector for any water MID might attempt to sell down the river. At the January 22 meeting MID General Manager Roger Van Hoy characterized the MID meeting where the Lyons sweetheart deal was passed, as open and public. This meeting was before Roger’s employment with MID and according to Former MID Director and Board President when the deal was passed, John Kidd is asked about MID meetings back then he likes to say, if there were three members of the public at a meeting then word must have gotten out that someone was bringing donuts.
The crux of the issue: Stealing Water From the River
Bill Lyons has the ability to sell water allocated to his land and then replace it FREE from the canal or to use his many large industrial sized pumps located along the river to supplant his ‘sold’ water. At least in OID’s proposed ‘fallowing’ program they don’t allow the farmer to replace the water by pumping ground water. Most hydrologists agree that using large industrial pumps located close to a river reduces a river’s flow by increasing river bottom seepage. And obviously taking water from MID’s canal before it gets to the river reduces flow to the fish and the delta thereby increasing salinity in farmland down stream.
Directors Mensinger and Campbell’s Decision Unethical and Immoral
In City of Modesto politics taking this kind of campaign donation would require the precipitant to recuse themselves or step back from the discussion and decision. MID has no campaign limits effecting this discussion. We’ve requested for MID to have this discussion several times but have been ignored, which of course sets up this dilemma. As we’ve pointed out this has been an issue for years. VanGroningen, Wild and Warda received money ($5,000 – Lyons seems to find this to be the required amount to purchase MID Directors) from Lyons and were behind the attempted water sale. Fortunately for all of Stanislaus County, Paul Warda changed his mind. Don’t let anyone fool you. Director Warda’s change of heart was the one and only reason the water sale didn’t go through. So Bill Lyons can be defeated, but not easily. Remember he managed to get MID to spend $248,000 on convincing the public the water sale was a good thing and currently is one of the main movers and shakers behind Modesto’s attempt to annex Wood Colony and Salida.
Secrecy and Openness
In the ‘Farmer to Farmer’ program, 3,300 acre feet were passed, transferred at unknown prices by unknown people, but handled by MID staff at a significant cost of staff (both office and field) time. In the Return Allocation Program we cut checks of approx. $540,000 to people whose names we aren’t allowed to know. As a side note we/MID were stuck with $328,000 worth of unsold water costs. They want us to take it on trust that all was investigated and is on the up and up. We, with what we believe is good reason, don’t trust staff.
To be fair Director Byrd did request staff to reconsider but the Board’s attorney response was “That is how we handled it in the past.” There is no legal requirement and Public Record Requests show the Board didn’t vote for secrecy on this issue. We’ve seen how MID staff’s past practices actually work against the ratepayers best interest. Why would we expect things to be different/better if we keep following past procedures and dong them the same way?
Here is MID’s Public Record Response when asked for the people who participated in the buying and selling of our most public of resources, our water. farmertofarmerPPRandredactedresponse
Trust MID’s Staff? Not me, how about you?