Former Modesto City Councilman Bruce Frohman (pictured left) continues to follow important regional political issues. As a Councilman, Frohman was known for his cautious use of taxpayer money and his dedication to preserving farmland. Below, Frohman discusses the controversial proposal to sell Modesto Irrigation District water to San Francisco.
The Modesto Irrigation District is considering a proposal for a long term contract to sell water to the City of San Francisco. Logically, MID could enter into an agreement that would be beneficial to both the local district and the coastal community. The rub is that the citizen/rate payers do not trust the ability of the MID leadership to enter into a contract that would not jeopardize the long term local availability of water.
If an optimal contract could be created, doing the deal could be justified. If the MID Board approves a contract, it will be telling its constituents that the district is entering into an optimal contract. However, the Board could be wrong.
Any contract has to provide MID with adequate escape clauses. For example, in the event of a drought, MID needs the ability to escape. If the local economy has a sudden increase in demand or needs a reserve to attract business, MID needs an out. In the event of unexpected events such as earthquake or contamination, the contract should be voidable.
Predicting future water need is an imprecise science. Water is an essential component for economic development in any community. Without water, there is no life. Water is a precious, limited commodity, with clean water shortages in many parts of the world affecting over one billion inhabitants. Modesto is in a desert, with about 10 inches of rainfall per year. San Francisco, which wants our water, receives over 28 inches of rainfall per year and is surrounded by water that could be desalinized to provide for the big city’s needs.
Modesto’s economy is in the dumps. Unemployment is over 20 percent. We need large quantities of fresh water delivered at low prices in order to maintain a healthy farming community around our city. The availability of clean fresh water at low cost is a major attractive asset for inducing business to move into Modesto. Citizens of Modesto have been rationing water for over 20 years. Yet, we have extra water to sell to San Francisco?
San Francisco’s economy is flying high. Unemployment is under 10 percent. The City can afford all the water it needs from existing supplies and contracts. A desalinization plant can be built to supplement its supplies. Certainly, the cost would be higher for San Francisco to build a plant than if we sell MID water. But to secure the long term supply for the entire state, shouldn’t new sources of water be developed before a shortage occurs?
Near Bishop, California, the Owens Valley was once a fertile farm land with orchards. After Los Angeles took all of Owens’ water, it shrivelled up and died. All that is left is desert. After Owens Lake completely dried up, the soil in the lake bed became a source of toxic air pollution from blowing dust. While MID would not let an environmental disaster of such a magnitude happen here, inadequate water assets after a sale would leave us economically impaired.
The only argument in favor of selling water to San Francisco is the cash a contract will bring. How much of a difference will the cash make to our community compared to the loss of the precious water? In reading a contract, it is very difficult to make an accurate assessment. This is why many citizens oppose the water sale. Is the added income worth the risk of inadequate supply?