Byrd Still Best for MID Board

Suzy Powell-Roos, a three-time Olympian and perhaps the most globally successful local athlete in recent memory, gives the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) a “B” or “B+” for its performance over the last two years. It’s the same grade assigned by incumbent board member Larry Byrd, whom Powell-Roos is challenging.

With an overall good grade for the board, Powell-Roos would ordinarily need a galvanizing issue or issues to unseat an incumbent, and she struggled to find one during a recent interview with the Modesto Bee. Powell-Roos said she would be “calming influence” on a board that has sometimes featured angry outbursts and discord, but there’s no reason to believe Byrd himself is solely responsible for the turmoil. She added that the practices that have brought the board to its current fiscal stability won’t be enough to sustain it into the future, that change is needed.

Both candidates dodged the question of water rates, arguing that an ongoing lawsuit will decide whether MID’s electric ratepayers have illegally subsidized the district’s farmers. Most farmers throughout the region pay too little for their water, benefitting either through subsidies or because their district sells water to distant buyers, and water sales are the subtext driving the challenge to Byrd’s position on the MID Board.

Almost ten years ago, when MID proposed selling water to the City of San Francisco, a public uproar brought the deal to a halt. The issue has never gone away, however. Some MID Board Directors have looked at nearby Oakdale Irrigation District’s water sales with clear envy, realizing that one easy way to keep rates down and farmers happy is by selling water outside the district.

Modesto Irrigation DistrictByrd has always been a staunch opponent of water sales and a fierce defender of local water rights. He sounded the alarm on groundwater depletion well before California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act required local entities to show plans for achieving sustainable groundwater use and has insisted during his nine-year term on the MID Board that groundwater sustainability be among the board’s chief concerns.

Byrd noted that when he was elected to the Board, MID was in debt. He said the Board is now fiscally sound and in an excellent position to keep pursuing state requirements for the conversion to clean energy. When asked about clean energy requirements, Powell-Roos attacked the state; it seemed yet another instance where she couldn’t find fault with Byrd.

As the incumbent, it’s not surprising that Larry Byrd has more specific knowledge of MID’s issues and operations than Powell-Roos. He’s also a retired MID employee of several decades, so his knowledge of the way things work is extensive and practical.

“We haven’t had a rate increase in the whole nine years I’ve been on the Board,” said Byrd when asked about the issue of power customers subsidizing farmers. Byrd said that fact alone should answer questions about his position on subsidies, but that the court would be the ultimate arbiter of the lawsuit brought by local ratepayers.

While there’s no question that Suzy Powell-Roos is one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most illustrious citizens, it’s difficult to see how her Olympic career alone qualifies her for the MID Board. Obviously a person of great character and intelligence, she needs to attach at least one or two defining issues to her campaign that would separate her from an incumbent whose passion and knowledge are thus far more than sufficient to keep him in office.


Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
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  1. Thank you, Eric, for letting people know more about the two people running for Modesto ID board.. Byrd’s opposing water sales seems like a good idea, with the overdraft of our one resource we can’t live without, water. We continue to act as if it is infinite.
    Seems moving water around, selling to highest bidder, will destroy our local communities and small farms on the eastern side of our valley. Will it not be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Robbing Peter to pay Paul?
    Byrd seems to be right on: Groundwater sustainability should be amoung the board,s main concerns.

  2. “”We haven’t had a rate increase in the whole nine years I’ve been on the Board,” said Byrd when asked about the issue of power customers subsidizing farmers.”””

    you set the rate to high 9 years ago and have been unwilling to think about how hard high power cost is for the rate payers in older homes with $400 + power bills , while at the same time corporate ag gets water for $10 a acre foot ! again the 1% get the gold and the 99% pay the cost.

  3. Larry Bird has always been a vote for the farmers first. The makeup of the board is 3 farmer votes to 1 citizen vote. This board has always been a good old boys network with no diversity. Suzy Powell-Roos would bring diversity but her unwilling ness to put ratepayers first or at least on equal footing makes me wonder. MID is an organization that drags their feet on solar, climate change, moving away from coal, or changing in any way. I think it would be nice if they worked on encouraging people to move away from gas appliances and toward electric cars. Their rate structure does not support this. Has Suzy talked about vwhat kind of change she supports?

  4. Hi John, not sure where you are getting your information from… Larry never “set the rate to high 9 years ago”, After he was elected to the board, he stopped the rate increases that had seen your bills double over the previous decade. Also, you should really update your home to be more energy efficient or maybe think about behavioral changes you can make to use less energy… that’s a very high bill for a single home!

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