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Irrigation water costs skyrocket

Despite fervent protest, the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Trustees last week approved an adjustment that will more than double irrigation rates for the 2015 season.

"If I didn't think you were getting your value, I wouldn't be up here supporting this," said Board president Ron Macedo during a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 13. "The fact is we're doing the best we can here. If I don't protect your water, then you can have an argument with us-but for this I hope you can appreciate what we are trying to accomplish here.

"We're doing a number of projects of trying to conserve water, but the fact of the matter is that the state has a target on our back. They want our water. The federal government has a target on our back. They want our water. We lobbied and we fought for that," continued Macedo.
Beginning this year, irrigation customers will begin to see an increase to their fixed charge, which represents a base rate that each grower has to pay to be included in the district.

For normal years, this adjustment increases the fixed charge of $23 per acre to $60 per acre. For dry years, the district's fixed charge will increase from $26 per acre to $68.

Volumetric charges, which are based on how much water a customer uses, will not change.

For a dry year, TID customers are set to pay a blended charge of $36.50 for 24 inches of water, which is $14.29 more than Modesto Irrigation District and $19.85 more than Oakdale Irrigation District.

However, even with this increase, TID customers will still be paying $27.25 less than Patterson Irrigation District customers and $50.50 less than Merced Irrigation District customers for 24 inches of water during a dry year scenario.

During the public hearing, TID civil engineering department manager Brad Koehn reviewed the proposed increase, as well as the reasons as to why the increase was necessary for the health of the district.

Among the expenditures that solicited this increase were a number of TID projects, including water conservation efforts mandated by SBX7-7, the Water Conservation Act of 2009; Lateral 8 Total Channel Control and Reservoir; and the development of a Water Master Plan.

"I think a lot of these projects that are going to cost millions of dollars are totally unnecessary. They are pet projects-as I like to call them-in my opinion," said irrigation customer Steve Niman at Tuesday's meeting. "You guys just want to keep getting bigger and bigger, but you don't have money for these things so you come after us for the money, and I don't think that's right."

Niman was not alone in his opinion, as customer Rose Morris also argued against the proposed increase and questioned the method the district used to implement the new adjustment.

"I pay more than $11,000 and it's going to go up to $28,000 just for the assessment and you can't even give me enough water," said Morris. "We're going to pay all this money-and for what? I just think this assessment has been poorly thought out."

After a lengthy hearing and giving everyone ample opportunity to voice their concerns, the Board ultimately decided to approve the increase.

"The reality is we are trying to achieve a long-term vision today. It costs money to take an old system and tighten it up so that less water is wasted and I am sympathetic to the people who are here today and who are seeing the size jump come down the pipe at one time," said Director Michael Frantz.

"I happen to prefer a higher acre foot charge and a lesser per acre charge to promote conservation, but I don't believe that is the general feel of the board and I am willing to go along with the majority, because in general we are trying to accomplish what we believe is the right thing to do," concluded Frantz.