Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Water Wars”

Why This MID Election is Important to You

By  Emerson Drake  

Having gone to Modesto Irrigation District (MID) meetings regularly for more than ten years, researched their past, and following them with interest for more than twice that time, that there is no doubt that this election is crucial to MID’s and our future.

When you start to talk about MID people’s eyes have a tendency to glaze over after about 30 seconds, that is unless you are talking to them after they pay an electric bill during a hot spell when they have been using their air conditioning.   The fact is that MID was mismanaged for years by Tom Van Groningen (1993-2013) ,his cohorts on the Board and Allen Short, MID’s General Manager, during those same years.

A short look at MID’s history of business decisions shows an absence of, shall we say, critical thinking. It’s been suggested more than once if they’d flipped a coin instead of being led around by the nose or making the decisions themselves  they could have saved us about $500 Million dollars by the simple chance of the flip. From the geothermal fiasco, to a potential garbage burner to the overpriced (by 30 percent)  McHenry Ave solar farm contract north of town, it was one debacle after another.

Another fact is that a small group of business people led by Bill Lyons, yes the Bill Lyons of Mapes Ranch that wanted to sell our water to San Francisco, have controlled MID’s Board for this same period.  Bill has written checks for $5,000 to his special MID candidates (2 per election)  during contested election years. While his business partners, this year both developers and farmers,  took care of the third MID seat to the same fiscal level. His most recent beneficiaries were Paul Campbell and Jim Mortenson.  Campbell was elected and Mortenson was defeated by Jake Wenger four years ago.

So after they drove into almost $1 Billion dollars in debt what happened next?  Well first of all Larry Byrd, Nick Blom, followed by Jake Wenger two years later,  were elected to the MID Board.  Secondly the cost of natural gas plummeted.  This gave us the profit that people point to.  And what was the prudent course to take?  They started to pay down the debt.

Just as most of us learned as we matured you can’t live off of credit forever so the MID Board did the prudent thing.  It’s not sexy but it is necessary, you have to pay down the debt.  In the past MID, since they aren’t governed by the Public Utilities Commission, had the ability to our raise rates whenever they felt like it.

Our electric rates have been the same since 2011 so if you are feeling the effect of a high electric bill it means you used, like most of us,  a lot of electricity during the 31 days of 100 degree heat recently.

Now we’re faced with the decision of who to elect to the MID Board.  Both men are church going family men and business men.  But politically speaking that’s where the similarity ends. Stu has aligned himself with developers like Paul Zagaris, George Petrulakis, Mani Grewal, and special interest groups like Bill Lyons and company.  Jake has aligned himself with his friends, family, and the average working family.  Stu is a johnny come lately that admits to knowing little but what he’s read in the Bee, and has a penchant for making promises he can’t back up.  Jake has been fiscally responsible when it comes to being our voice on MID and is the most available person I’ve ever known in politics.  As an example if asked a question in person or online he’ll answer it immediately if time permits, and if it doesn’t or you have more questions he’ll give you his personal phone number and either give you the answer or get you the answer to your questions.  Unfortunately Stu isn’t knowledgeable about water or MID at all.  He’s like a one trick pony that looks nice but won’t take you anywhere.

The sound decision to make is to get up off you chair or couch and make sure you vote for Jake Wenger.

 

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Modesto Irrigation District Wastes $75,000 on Outsourcing

By Emerson Drake   

Among today’s action items on MID’s agenda was one to hire third party administration of their basic retirement plan. So in layman’s speak they intend to outsource the insurance part of the retirement plan.  MID has had two positions designated for handling questions and assisting retirees but for two years now only one has been filled.  I wanted to provide the two-step song and dance given to the Board by the Human Resources head but the video isn’t up yet.  I was so captivated with the jargon used I wanted to share it but that will have to come later.

Suffice to say the head of H.R was unwilling to commit to doing away with a position they haven’t needed in two years because it might become necessary AFTER they outsource the majority of the positions duties.  Interestingly enough only Director John Messinger agreed that MID wasn’t saving money but spending an extra $75,000.

When John asked if Human Resources was going to come back before the Board to request the unused position  be filled concerns were voiced by other Board members that the Board had never micro-managed the staff before and they shouldn’t start now.

So lets summarize the issue.  They have two positions designated to perform the job tasks and one of them has been vacant for two years.  They intend to out-source the majority of the job for $75,000 a year yet aren’t willing to give up the unused position.

Believe it or not the final vote was 4-1 (Mensinger being the one “no” vote) to spend the extra money and to leave the position available to be filled without oversight.

At today’s meeting being fiscally responsible wasn’t what you would call their long suit.

 

Going, Going, Gone, Our Water is Being Auctioned Off Thanks to the MID

By Emerson DrakeMIDpic

All farmers who irrigated their crops last year using MID are allotted a minimum 18 inches this year, not enough to bring a crop to the market place.  MID has set a bounty on the water of Four Hundred Dollars per acre for not using the water and returning the water to MID for distribution to all farmers that apply using a random drawing.  The reality is they set a base price for the upcoming private water auction for this year.

If the rate increase of 10% goes through the cost will be $32.50 for the base allocation of 18″  plus a ‘Drought Surcharge” of $11.91 which equals $44.14 per acre.  MID is offering to give irrigators  $400.00 per acre for their base of 18″ or $267 per acre foot if they don’t use the water and leave it with MID.  A nice incentive to return something they haven’t received or paid for.

It Gets Better:  Our self described city boys, yes John Mensinger used/coined the term referring to himself and Paul Campbell threw in a wild card.  He made his point by saying, “they mostly represented people living in Modesto.”  Their argument was that a farmer should be allowed to sell their water to anyone they wanted and not just to family as has been MID’s past practice for transferring water delivery rights.   And by pushing the $400 incentive they created a ‘base’ price for MID water.

But The Water Isn’t Theirs:  See the rub is the water is MID’s water and MID is owned by its ratepayers meaning you and me.   So the two city boys along with Nick Blom, who reversed his earlier position, voted to place MID’s water up for auction to the highest bidder.  Remember, this is water they haven’t paid for, don’t own, yet windfall profits are going to be allowed?  What did these three eat for breakfast?

Mensinger and Campbell have been complaining about subsidies by the electric side: With all of the preaching that has been going on about subsidies you would have thought they would have suggested that MID hold an auction for any surplus water and then use the profit to support its  budget instead of allowing a few special interest farmers to line their pockets using our water, which they won’t have to pay for until they receive their bill November.

We all understand the Modesto Chamber of Commerce donated $2,000 and Bill Lyons even more to each of the ‘city boys’ and that the Chamber is  famous for using public money to help their ‘friends’ and they do expect a return on their money, but I would have hoped they would have refrained from passing out the largess for a couple of months more.

The sellers are guaranteed a MINIMUM profit of $355.59 per acre.  And who knows where that will end up after the unofficial auction.

The bottom line is:  We’re fronting them the water for at least six months at no money down or interest fees to allow them to find the highest bidder on our water for them to make the profit on?   And this is  the business acumen the two city boys bring to the MID Board?   Just how did this help the 113,000 electric account holders?   How did this help the small farmer who is barely making it bring his crop to harvest.   How did this help us?

What’s on America’s Mind With Emerson Drake… Friday at Noon

Topics include the ethics of Modesto’s Politicians,  the evil cabal behind

Radio RED 104.9 FM

Radio RED 104.9 FM (Photo credit: Mahdi Ayat.)

the Mensinger, Campbell, and Mortensen slate,  will the County’s water proposal really make a difference, Mike Hardin’s Measure X claims and the missing truth, these topics and more so tune in and find out what you need to know to make decisions important to you, your family and your community. Friday at Noon.

104.9 FM our flagship station

To listen live or from our archive: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/whats-on-americas-mind/2013/11/01/whats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake

Contributor Endorses Jake Winger

By Jim Bonetti

MID should have people who are committed to doing what’s right for rate payers AND farmers. Not just to do what farmers and/or MID

Modesto Marathon  7983

wants. Electric rate payers already pay 95% of the MID bills and water users pay 5% of these bills.
Jake Wenger dropped off a flyer while I was out. I called him Wednesday morning and asked him where he stands on a number of subjects at MID. First off he was glad I called and second he was forthright with his answers. When I asked about the “board governance policy” which gives the MID manager more power to make decisions (and less power to the Board), he explained that when he is elected, that will be the first thing he will addres,s to delete this “policy”! I agree wholeheartedly!
I spoke to Paul Warda a couple of months ago about this same “policy”. He told me that he didn’t know it was in the proposal at the time he voted on it and asked for a clarification from a MID executive who researched it and told him “yes, this “policy” was still in the proposal when the Board voted on it”, unfortunately. He apologized for his mistake and vowed that if he had known about it, he never would have voted for the proposal!
Maybe it was just Van Groningen leaning on Warda to push him to vote for the proposal…..
Jake is not just looking out for farmers, as some people may think (farmers are for farmers mentality). On the contrary, he says that the cost of water could be increased to about $30/acre foot and still be profitable for most farmers. Those that grow corn would have a tougher time of it as corn requires more water to mature. However, with water users paying more of the bills it would ease the expense paid by electric rate payers.
If the cost of water reaches $50/acre foot, farmers would drill their own wells and not buy MID water. But, if farmers keep drilling, the aquifer will diminish and may never be replenished and we have only so much water to spread around.
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS OR DOUBTS REGARDING JAKE or MID policies, CALL HIM! THE NUMBER IS IN THE FLYER (209-484-9343). He’ll answer you with good, honest information.

By Jim Bonetti

Lessons Learned at LCR’s MID Candidate Forum

By Emerson Drake

The Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) conducted a flawless MID candidate  forum for the public Monday night. They

Lyons

adhered to their rules which include: only those with paid memberships can vote, those with both personal and business memberships can vote twice, and it’s allowable to come prior to the forum and place your votes and leave before the forum starts.  About 50 people were present if you include the eight candidates.  I was present as the votes were counted and the process went off without a hitch as has been my experience with LCR. The eight candidates all responded to the questions put to them to the best of their ability.  Quite honestly there was a wide discrepancy in their ability and afterward I wondered if those voting were at the same forum I was, but that is just my personal opinion.  All in all It was a fair democratic process.

And now the vote totals:

MID District 2           John Mensinger 23              Carmen Sabatino 3

MID District 3        Paul Campbell 18        Les Johnson 7

MID District 4        Jim Mortensen 15          Jake Wenger 9          Ted Donham 1       Brad Johnson 0

What I learned at the Forum

As an observer and participant of the political process I’ve been aware of a slate of candidates being run by Bill Lyons.  In recent MID elections Mr. Lyons has supported the majority of candidates to the tune of $5,000 each.  Unfortunately he supported the candidates who, in turn, supported former General Manager Allen Short.  Short consistently made some of the worst decisions possible costing MID ratepayers millions of dollars.  He was also behind the creation of the slush fund where the MID Board funneled $249,000  through Martino Graphics to a variety of lobbyists.  The man receiving the most money was a political consultant named Mike Lynch.  Would it surprise anyone  to learn Mr. Lynch is the major consultant behind Lyons candidate slate?  With Mike Lynch having the MID money pie all over his face it’s understandable for Bill Lyons to bring in someone unconnected with the Martino Graphics fiasco to be the slate’s (Mortensen, Mensinger, and Campbell) public consultant.

The high profile political consultant is Chip Langman of Langman Consulting.  In a conversation with Mr. Langman he stated he was representing and being paid by candidates Mensinger and Campbell and denied being part of the Mortensen campaign. I suppose when campaign consultants are talking with those who might write about the conversation it’s understandable that being forthcoming (honest) might not be first on their agenda and unfortunately this was the case with Mr. Langman.  Jim Mortensen had previously let it slip, that while he didn’t have a contract with Langman Consulting directly, his major benefactor, Bill Lyons did and it was on his behalf along with that of the other two candidates.

Both John Mensinger and Paul Campbell seem to be nice men in their own right.  This is part of the Bill Lyons technique (modus operandi seemed a little too fancy, but applicable). Lyons likes to bring in respectable businessmen that have little or no experience to run for MID like Glen Wild.  Their main value?  To vote as they are told.  They have little to no experience with MID’s water and electrical issues seeing that Mensinger just started coming to meetings recently and Campbell might not have even located the  the MID Board room more than once.  In the past both men have made public statements regarding the need to sell our water to San Francisco.

Jim Mortensen is a horse of a different color. He came to the podium during the water sale talks and was adamant about wanting MID to sell water on a long term basis to San Francisco.  And he stuck to his opinion when all of the details of the reprehensible contract came to light.  To make a mistake and be wrong and then change your mind is one thing, but to continue on the road to ruin is another.  He continues to say we need to monetize our water.  Just a week ago Mortensen came out publicly for the Board Governance policy which restricts the elected Directors access to the very information necessary to make informed decisions, thereby forcing them to rely solely on staff opinions without being able evaluate the facts for themselves.  This rule made it easier for Allen Short to bamboozle the Board into terrible costly decisions, decisions we ratepayers are still paying for (if you have any doubt check your electric bills).  Mortensen had pledged he would NOT use the Water Advisory Board as a jumping off point to run for office but he did.   Mortensen’s track record tell us he either lies to his advantage or makes terrible decisions and refuses to correct them.

Please understand Bill Lyons has been behind the proposed MID water sale to San Francisco all along. He doesn’t care if we run out of water since his property is along the river and he knows his 11 deep wells will bring him a fortune if the water runs out and everyone become desperate.  In my opinion he wants to assist in our destruction so he can make a fortune.  He can’t dam the water up so he wants to facilitate the sale of it out from underneath us. Even during droughts San Francisco was going to get their water first and MID, you and I, were going to get the leftovers.

Also know this isn’t Lyons first rodeo.  Four years ago Lyons personally supported Glen Wild’s and Paul Warda’s campaigns to the tune of $5,000 each and had his cronies do the same for Tom VanGroningen. Team Lyons has pledged to raise $60,000 for Mortensen’s campaign. In the past  he supported John Kidd and Cecil Hendsley’s campaigns too.   Lyons likes to play behind the scenes and stack the deck with jokers.  Please know several people who helped to recruit Mensinger, Campbell and Mortensen  were directly involved with MID in the last few years.  These include Janice Keating through the Martino Graphics slush fund and George Petrulakis who was paid $28,000 to facilitate ONE meeting between MID and the City of Modesto.  It isn’t a stretch to suggest this money, Keating’s and Petrulakis’,  were down payments for services ‘to be rendered.’

We have many good candidates to choose from running for the Modesto Irrigation District and no offense to anyone, but none will be endorsed by the Latino Community Roundtable.  Now you know the Bill Lyons and MID back story.  Tell your friends, co-workers, and neighbors.  The only way we can save our drinking water and keep our electric bills down is to make sure the Lyon’s slate of candidates doesn’t get into office.

VANCE KENNEDY AT MID ON SEPTEMBER 17, 2013

Vance C. Kennedy

Since the last MID Board meeting a lawyer friend of mine was kind enough to call my attention to a report, published in 2011,

English: 1. Aquifer 2. Aquitard 3. Unsaturated...

which is applicable to the question of what can be done about the grossly over-drafting of the water table in the foothills.  I have left a partial copy of the reference with Pat, your secretary.

I quote, “The common law doctrine of correlative rights regulates the taking and use of groundwater, unless local arrangements apply.  That doctrine limits groundwater pumping to the ‘safe yield’, being the volume of natural and artificial recharge of the aquifer, which is shared by overlying landowners on an “equitable basis” (regardless of their particular uses), and by non-overlying landowners, if there is sufficient water available.”

That last “if there is sufficient water available” is the key.  There is not sufficient water available to support the water drawn by the existing and proposed deep wells.  The rainfall in the foot hills averages in the range 12 to 14 inches of water per year, of which perhaps half contributes to groundwater.  Almond trees being planted require at least 30 inches of water per year, so there is a shortage of about 24 inches of water above the safe yield.   The shortage is being made up by mining ancient groundwater (2,000 to 13,000 years old) in direct conflict with the doctrine of safe yield.  It causes major and continuing drops in the regional water table.  The result is a short time benefit to the County of a large increase in almond production and a long term societal disaster for the foothills region.  Politically, it is a “hot potato”, but must not be ignored, as in the past.  Irreplaceable and extensive damage has already occurred and must not continue.

In sedimentary rock deposits it is well known that the lateral permeability of rocks is much greater than the vertical permeability.  Therefore, when a deep well operates, it can draw water much more easily from the side than above.  That water comes from the neighbors before it comes from the overlying rock.  California is one of two states that have no groundwater laws, but tort law may very well apply, since a neighbor’s property may become worthless as a result of the almond grower’s actions.  After all, if water is too deep or expensive to pump, a foothill house and land is worthless.  It no longer provides taxes to the County or a livelihood to people.

Who is responsible for filing the lawsuit to recover damages due to these deep high-volume wells?  It’s a valid question.  It is my non-lawyer understanding that if the problem is a purely local one, the affected property owner is responsible for handling the suit, but if it is a regional problem, the public authorities have the responsibility.  There is little doubt that this is a regional problem and therefore the County should file suit to stop the pumping and reimburse the harmed property owners.  There is some discussion of this question in the reference mentioned.

I realize that this is outside the sphere of influence of MID, but I thought the MID members might be interested.

A copy of this talk will be provided to the Board of Supervisors, and, as a water agency, you might be interested in following up on the information I have provided.

Part four in the applicable section: UncommonInnovation

MID Part 2 GM Roger ‘the Dodger’ VanHoy Has Some Explaining to Do

By Emerson Drake

When MID General Manager Roger VanHoy was asked during the last MID meeting if ‘the Serpa Rule’ was included in the Governance policy the Board

English: Flag of San Francisco Español: Bander...

was getting ready to vote on,  he looked down at the dais and acted as if he was going  to write something and made no comment.  And as I pointed out in the last article the Serpa Rule was indeed part of the Governance plan (BL-4 to be exact).

BL-4 states: (B) In the case of Board members or committees with MID employees or contractors requesting information or assistance without Board authorization, the General Manager or the General Council MUST refuse such requests that require, in their opinion, a material amount of staff time, or funds, or are disruptive.  

Previously GM Allen Short had declared that conducting a salary survey was disruptive to morale and that potentially (the project didn’t have to be started) using more than 15 minutes of staff time was cause for not supplying the requested information.

Well I wasn’t the only person he bamboozled.   Apparently he had assured more than one member of the Board the Serpa Rule wasn’t included there either.  Sadly he mislead several of the Directors who voted him his permanent position as General Manager just last week. The honeymoon is over for ‘the Dodger’ after he stepped on his own…tail.  Looks like the Board and the public are going to have a trust issues with Roger ‘the Dodger’ VanHoy in the future, and rightly so.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Serpa Rule gets removed from the Governance policy before the elections.

The two men who pushed hard to get the Governance policy in front of the Board as an action item (Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild) are going around ‘campaigning’ for a few of the candidates saying, that like themselves the candidates believe our water should be sold to San Francisco on a long term basis and that we need to institute the Governance policy immediately.

The three candidates we should avoid like the plague are John Mensinger,  Jim Mortensen, and Paul Campbell.  We can NOT afford to for these men to get into office. Their irresponsible desire to send water out of our county to San Francisco on a first serve basis utilizing a long term (30 year) contract is shortsighted and foolish.

Vance Kennedy Addressing the Modesto Irrigation District Board

By Vance Kennedy – 9/10/13

I was at a meeting yesterday at which Larry Byrd said that electric service to the foothills may need to be increased to service

Groundwater Well

Groundwater Well (Photo credit: Kecko)

the very large pumps being installed to mine groundwater for growing almonds.  There are major policy questions to be addressed here:

1.   These pumps will suck water from a large area of neighbors and wipe them out, thereby cutting off existing demand by those neighbors permanently.

2.   The new large deep wells will require high-power lines, but will return money to MID to pay off those lines for a very limited number of years, depending on how long it takes to deplete the ancient ground water in the area.  That groundwater, if similar to that in the foothills in Calavaras County, is in the range of 2,000 to 13,000 years old and will take many decades to replace, assuming present rainfall.  If global warming reduces rainfall, a real possibility, it may take centuries.  There is no way of knowing, so at least consider the worst and plan accordingly.  Any wasted money for installing new high power lines to those very deep wells will be borne by other ratepayers and that is unfair to them.

When the groundwater is gone in the foothills, it will be essentially a permanent wasteland except in those areas where outside water can be imported.  Does the general public really want that?

The best simile I can think of is a bus load of people headed for a cliff in the fog on automatic pilot.  We already have several examples to the south and there are no rules to prevent a disaster due to human greed and lack of state laws.

Vance Kennedy Voices Concerns to the MID Board

By Vance Kennedy

1.  There is an estimated minimum need for about $35 million dollars in funds to answer requirements for Don Pedro

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts.

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reservoir and the MID irrigation system.  That number is a very approximate one.  To the best of my knowledge, funds have not been saved for this.

2.  That money is too large to be obtained by immediate charges, so a bond issue is necessary.

3.  Recent comments by the head of the Federal Reserve, suggesting an easing of bond buying, caused a very rapid jump in 30-year Treasury interest rates of 0.8 percent.  That still leaves interest rates far below long-term averages.  However, the Federal Reserve immediately hastened to try to calm the fears of a rapid rise in interest rates.  It helped, but did not cause interest rates to return to the prior low rates.

4.  In the past, large-scale printing of money resulted in large increases in inflation, but with a variable time delay.  It seems reasonable to assume a similar occurrence in the future.

5.  Now is the time to sell bonds before the Federal Reserve actually does raise interest rates.

6.  A source of bond repayment must be identified before the bonds can actually be sold.

7.  That means an equitable distribution of charges to water users is needed, which will take time, but the time available is very, very short if we are to take advantage of existing low interest rates and before inflation takes off.

8.  The only way a bond can be issued rapidly is to use MID’s overall credit, with a definite written agreement that raw water users will repay the rest of MID customers as soon as possible, and that means very promptly, with no exemptions.

9.  That will require a major, perhaps gradual, charge causing water rates to increase greatly.

10. When water rates increase greatly, many farmers may forego flooding and use drip irrigation.

11. That will result in dropping the water table greatly, just like in the foothills, due to lack of sufficient groundwater recharge.  Also, it could cause a permanent loss of rights to river water, since flood irrigation is greatly reduced and canal water will not be used beneficially.  That loss of water rights should apply permanently to farmers going to drip irrigation because once water rights are lost, they cannot be easily recovered if, indeed, they ever can be recovered.  Otherwise, drip irrigators will act like parasites on the flood irrigating farmers.  This problem with drip irrigation has not been widely recognized in the past, but can no longer be ignored.

12. To avoid the loss of water rights to the river, the farmers must continue to flood irrigate and pay whatever is required to retain the water rights to canal water.  Cities should also encourage farmers to flood irrigate, since groundwater is their backup in case of a severe or prolonged drought.

13. A rough estimate of the cost to pay off $35 million dollars over 30 years, and cover already existing costs, is on the order of $38 per acre foot, plus or minus $5 per acre foot, assuming the present interest rate of 4.8% on MID bonds.  That will mean at least quadrupling the present raw water charge.  Before city residents get all excited about their water rate increases, they should realize that the water charge is estimated to be less than 2% of their water bill.  Hence, their water bill might go up $3 to $4 dollars per month.  City cost now is 1/5 of a penny per gallon.

14. The immediate reaction to this proposal will be “No way”.  Farmers can either face reality now or pay a lot more in the not too distant future.  I challenge anyone to face the situation realistically and come up with a better way to solve our long-term problems.  Detailed explanation of these ideas have been provided to the Board members will prior to this meeting.  Do the Board members have any questions or comments?  Time is of the essence.  $35 million for each 1% increase in interest cost to pay off $35 million over 30 years.  The total increase in interest costs over that 30 years will be about $10.5 million.

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