Editor’s note: Please note a correction below this article; we apologize for the error.
If you were a farmer during a drought, wouldn’t you like to have an unlimited supply of water? Wouldn’t you also like access to river water and have the privilege of selling it?
In Stanislaus County, some farmers have special privileges given to them by the Board of Directors of the Modesto Irrigation District (MID).
In order to have an unlimited supply of water, a farmer has to have wells. The wells have to be located near a water source, such as near the San Joaquin River. To enable the extraction of a large quantity of water, the landowner should own a lot of property upon which to dig wells. Water from the nearby river percolates to the wells and, voila, an unlimited supply of river water is extracted from the wells. Those who own low lying areas near rivers benefit the most from MID’s policy of allowing farmers to resell the agency’s water allocations. Can the sale of well water be added to the resale of MID allocated water without anyone being the wiser?
In an attempt to hide the beneficiaries of recently passed water allocation and resale rules, the Board decided this past week, on a 4-1 vote, that farmers within the MID system do not need to disclose their inventory of wells. The reason for the lack of disclosure should be evident. The Board majority does not want people to figure out who will be benefitting from the policy. Why else would such information be kept secret? Unless he has something to hide, why would anyone insist on privacy about the location of wells on his property?
Water Is a Public Asset Used for Private Benefit
When it comes to water rights, there are two schools of thought. One school says that water is property that can be bought and sold. If someone can buy up all the property, then he can use it to the exclusion of others. If others go bankrupt due to lack of water, too bad for the others.
The second school of thought is that water is a public asset. The asset should be used for the good of the entire population, not just those who have the means to buy it. Water is essential for life and everyone has the right to life.
Those in a position to hold the majority of the water rights subscribe to the first school. The average citizen who relies on public water for survival subscribes to the second school.
The MID as Arbiter of Water Rights
Modesto Irrigation District was originally formed by those who believed water is a public asset. The goal of the district has been to make water available to ALL farmers within the district, not just a select few. Historically, the allocation process has been fair to all.
The present drought has tested the system’s fairness to its limit. Earlier this year, the MID Board passed water resale rules that have made the distribution system patently unfair by enriching larger land owners with easy access to water. The decision to keep well ownership hidden is clearly intended to not only hide the unfair rules that were previously passed, but to prevent illumination of the magnitude of enrichment that will come to those with wells on low lands near the rivers.
Farmers Need to Demand Fairness and Accountability
If no one says anything further, the present unfair water allocation system that allows resale of public water by private individuals will proceed. Those who live a distance from rivers and at higher elevations will see a drastic decline in profitability of their businesses, while those who benefit under the new rules will thrive. Farmers need a level playing field to compete, but the field is no longer level. The truth of this matter could not be any more clear. One need not be a hydrologist to figure out who the winners and losers are from this year’s new rules.