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TID proposal sparks debate on local water use
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The drought that has encompassed the state in the past three years triggering heated discussions on the use of water resources was brought close to home on Tuesday at the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors meeting.

In their first ever night meeting, the TID Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a resolution that proposes curtailing the amount of water it transfers from the Tuolumne River to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, which is comprised of the cities of Ceres, Turlock and Modesto, based on the District's overall water year.

The District has continually worked alongside the City of Turlock and other local municipalities and water agencies to develop a surface water treatment facility since early discussions in the late 1980s. The proposed multimillion dollar surface water treatment plant would treat Tuolumne River water to help create safe drinking water for the partnering cities as regional groundwater sources continually diminish due to over pumping.

"On normal years, where the Board has determined that there's sufficient water for all of our irrigation customers, the Board will be able to provide every bit of what's requested by the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority...if we can make our existing irrigation customers whole, we'll make the SRWA whole. In those years we have water for everyone," said Tou Her, TID's assistant general manager of water resources, during Tuesday's meeting.

"In those years where we have less than normal water and there's a reduction, we will require the SRWA to provide offset water," Her added.

TID's resolution calls on the SRWA to find other sources for water during dry years. In a staff report, TID recommends the City of Turlock use recycled water from its wastewater treatment plant.

That water, however, has "already been spoken for," in the words of Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen.

In June, the City Council decided to move forward with the next stage of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project - the roughly $100 million project that will help provide a reliable water supply to the 45,000 acres of farmland serviced by the Del Puerto Water District, using treated tertiary recycled water from the cities of Turlock and Modesto that would be pumped to the Westside through the Harding Drain Bypass to the Delta-Mendota Canal.

At Tuesday's meeting, Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke explained to the TID Board why the Del Puerto water deal was the only viable option the City had to meet state water board loan agreements that have a January 2015 deadline.

"You've contended that more recycled water should be used in the [Turlock] basin, I understand this situation, but it fails to take into account current realities, specifically the terms of the City's permit operate the wastewater treatment plant and the terms of our loan agreement with the state water board that we used funding to construct the Harding Drain Bypass project," Cooke said.

For members of the Del Puerto Water District, TID's proposal that the SRWA use recycled water - the same water promised to them - to offset the reduction from the Tuolumne River in dry years was a direct attack on their liveliness and that TID can find other ways to conserve its irrigation water.

"I feel like my brother and I have a unique perspective because we farm in both the TID and in the Del Puerto Water District and ... there couldn't be two different types of farming that go on in this state. I mean it's definitely the haves and the have nots," said Christine Gemperle. " I feel like in the TID it's like a fantasy land. In the good years we get 48 inches, that's crazy...20 inches for us is a dream. And what we can do with 20 inches is freaking amazing. Here, I feel like a lot of people waste water."

TID will be holding additional public meetings at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Aug. 12 and 6 p.m. Aug. 13 to solicit comment on its Domestic Water Plan, which includes the water curtailment proposal approved at Tuesday's meeting.