Modesto Irrigation District leaders hustling to get growers more water
July 31, 2014
By: Garth Stapley; The Modesto Bee
Nut farmers and other Modesto Irrigation District customers can wait to water crops as late as Oct. 3. That’s two weeks later than initially planned, giving trees a better chance of surviving the drought and being healthy enough to produce again next year.
The MID board also agreed Tuesday to accommodate another round of farmer-to-farmer water transfers with a Sept. 2 application deadline. And the district might offer to sell some extra water reserved in April by a few farmers who haven’t asked or paid for it since then.
Faced with a third consecutive dry winter, district officials in February said the irrigation season would end Sept. 19, several weeks earlier than usual, and capped deliveries at 24 inches per acre, down from 36 in a normal year.
But farmers, especially those raising almonds, have been pressing for later deliveries.
Citing University of California research, Ron Fisher said trees that don’t drink just after harvest can lose 74 percent of nuts the following year.
Some almond varieties, such as padre, mission, Monterey and Fritz, harvest later than Sept. 19, growers told the board.
“I’ve farmed almonds over 50 years and I’ve never got my harvest completed by Oct. 3,” said Cecil Hensley, a former board member. “There is no use having (water) next year if we don’t keep our trees alive.”
Farmers won’t get more than their fair share with the extension; Tuesday’s unanimous vote simply allows them to apply their allotment later in the year, explained board member Jake Wenger, who farms.
Board Chairman Nick Blom, also a grower, reminded people that they can rent district wells and canals after the regular season ends, for late-season irrigating.
“It’s not the purest snow water, but it’s water,” Blom said.
To augment deliveries, scores of farmers this year have taken advantage of new programs allowing them to buy or sell MID shares in fixed-price transfers managed by the district or open-market sales at any agreed-upon price.
The district has accommodated more than 100 open-market deals for farmers who submitted transfer requests by deadlines of June 1, July 1 and Friday. Tuesday’s 4-1 vote, with Larry Byrd dissenting, adds a fourth deadline of Sept. 2.
“This gives everyone a little more time and flexibility,” Modesto farmer Aaron Miller said.
Wenger initially suggested an Aug. 15 deadline. Attorneys Stacy Henderson and Bob Fores said their clients would appreciate more time and noted that MID General Manager Roger VanHoy had acknowledged that his staff has experienced no difficulty processing transfer requests.
In April, 26 farmers indicated interest in the district’s allocation return program, meaning they might want to sell a portion or all of their MID water shares, or buy water given up by others. The cost was $200 per acre-foot on either end.
The district set aside enough water to cover those potential deals, but a handful of farmers – fewer than a dozen, said civil engineering manager John Davids – did not sign contracts and have not paid for the extra water they initially said they might buy.
Davids did not know how much water remains in that pot, but said it represents a potential $300,000 loss. Board member John Mensinger said that’s “regrettable” and Wenger suggested selling the water to others in what VanHoy termed “something like a last call.”
“Let’s make it available. I think people would take us up on it,” Wenger said.
VanHoy said he will suggest rules for such deals at a future meeting.
The board next meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at 1231 11th St., Modesto.