A part of San Francisco’s future water supply that would be sourced from Modesto County hangs in the balance as water district officials there consider concerns raised by local farmers about selling water to San Francisco.
The Modesto Irrigation District will vote on a 2,240-acre-feet sale to San Francisco next month, approximately nine months after it first solicited the public for comments and concerns about the Tuolumne River water transfer.
District officials today released a revised version of the contract for the transfer on the district’s website and announced that the vote on it would be delayed from July 10 to July 24.
Opponents say the sale would create shortages in dry years for farmers and residents supplied by the water district, including the city of Modesto, for whom the water district provides untreated water and treated drinking water.
But the water district’s canals are in need of improvements, and supporters say the revenue from the sale could fund upgrades to the canals.
Farmers currently pay $9.30 per acre-foot of basic allotment. At $700 an acre-foot, San Francisco would be paying about 70 times the farm rate.
San Francisco could also be provided with a much larger second allotment, up to 25,000 acre-feet, one that requires an environmental review.
District board members are also expected to vote on whether to initiate that environmental review process at the July 24 meeting, according to district spokeswoman Melissa Williams.
Currently, most of San Francisco’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is upstream from the district’s Don Pedro Reservoir. The reservoirs’ proximity means new infrastructure would not be needed to transfer water to San Francisco, according to the district.
Although Modesto city leaders have expressed concerns that the proposal would give San Francisco priority during drought years, water district officials say irrigation system improvements paid for using revenues from water transfers to San Francisco would increase system and water use efficiency, making the system more reliable and ensuring sufficient water is available for transfer.
According to a publicly available district memo dated April 27, water currently lost through seepage, which would be retained by the improvements, is estimated to be more than the amount needed for the transfers.
The agreement, if approved, would provide water to San Francisco for a period slightly longer than 10 years beginning this summer, with two 20-year renewal options.
The district estimates 10 different infrastructure improvements it has identified will cost $115 million, without taking into account financing costs.
Water sold to San Francisco could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, should the 25,000-acre-feet sale become an option. The smaller first sale is projected to provide approximately $17 million to the water district over the next 10 years.
San Francisco’s plan to secure additional water in dry years dates back to at least 2008, when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission adopted a water safety improvement plan outlining such a transfer.
A San Francisco Public Utilities Commission representative could not be reached for comment today on the proposed transfer.
Patricia Decker, Bay City News