The more you look at the proposed Modesto Irrigation District (MID) water sale to San Francisco, the more apparent it becomes that MID manager Allen Short and his allies on the Board of Directors are engaging in a dangerous game of sleight of hand.
The fundamental premise of the sale—that MID has water to sell—is so patently false as to make one wonder why the MID has dared voice it. But just as the dealer of the game of Three Card Monte counts on the self-deceiving greed of the rubes who bet on his scam, the MID is expecting its ratepayers to be penny-wise and pound-foolish in preferring a sale to San Francisco to a raise in rates.
Consider the following:
- Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State of California are expected soon to require increased flows along the Tuolumne River as necessary to restore salmon and steelhead runs as well as to further the restoration of the San Joaquin River.
- Valley farmers have already been notified of reduced water allotments for irrigation—some by as much as fifty percent.
- The so-called “spill” water the MID hopes to capture with new infrastructure includes water that feeds ponds and wetlands on the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, where wintering Aleutian Canada Geese and other waterfowl can number in the tens of thousands. The likelihood the local Audubon Society and allied groups will stand idly by when alerted to the destruction of wetland and waterfowl habitat is virtually nil.
Any one the above conditions presents a formidable obstacle to the MID proposal. All three problems would amount to the force of a presidential veto if local leaders and media were at all alert to the threat of the water sale.
But the one thing in the MID’s favor is the failure of Valley leaders and media to stake out a position on the “transfer” of water to San Francisco. The MID is calculating that the initial gambit of delivering 2,000 acre feet per year to San Francisco will fly under the radar, in part because it seems such a small amount compared to the proposed 25,500 acre feet to follow.
Desperately in need of money, supporters of the water sale actually benefit from public opposition to necessary rate increases, mostly because the protest will provide cover for the sale and the sale will help pay for a series of management errors that have put the MID in dire financial straits. Knowing that ratepayers have long enjoyed the illusion of cheap water, no one, especially the MID, wants to be the messenger who tells them the joy ride is over, even though rate increases are necessary and inevitable.
In Southern California, the Central Basin Municipal Water District, under fire for a series of rate increases, will (for now) freeze its rate at $915 the acre-foot. MID customers currently pay $29.50 an acre-foot. Unless they and their leaders come to their senses, the inexorable laws of supply and demand will soon render the fertile oasis that is Paradise Valley another urban desert. Because, as the MID knows for certain, if we are unwilling to pay for our water, someone else will.