Water posturing stifles compromise

We can’t resist pointing out the irony:

A year ago, a debate was raging over whether the Modesto Irrigation District should sell a relatively small amount of water to San Francisco and undertake a study to sell much more. The price for the smaller sale would have been $700 per acre-foot, although opponents claimed that the Bay Area was trying “to steal our water.” There was a lot of “us versus them” posturing going on.

After rejecting the water sale in the face of relentless opposition, the MID and the adjoining Turlock Irrigation District now are looking at an entirely different prospect — that a state agency will demand as much or more water, with no payment involved.

The proposal by the State Water Resources Control Board staff might improve the salmon numbers — although that’s not proved — but it could mean a huge economic hit on the two irrigation districts and their water and power customers. Staff outlined some of the impact at Tuesday’s MID meeting; staff writer Garth Stapley reported on it in Wednesday’s Bee. The new “us versus them” is local residents — farmers and city residents — versus the state and the environmentalists. That’s similar to the team line-ups we’ve seen in water fights elsewhere in the valley.

Some of those who opposed the water sale to San Francisco claim this proves that the MID didn’t have excess water to sell. We see it another way — the irrigation districts are vulnerable to having their water taken if they can’t prove that it is going to the highest and best uses. Under the law, the highest and best use is municipal and industrial — basically human consumption. Selling water to the Bay Area would have been a commitment to municipal use and the MID might be in a better bargaining position today if the San Francisco water sale had gone through.

And yet another perspective: By negotiating with San Francisco, the MID signaled that it did have excess water, so last year’s discussion will undermine any MID argument against the state water board now.

How much water the state water board ultimately will demand isn’t likely to be known for months and maybe years. We are committed to the idea that there are more demands for water than there is water available most years. What’s not in doubt: There will be expensive lawyers involved in this fight and a frustrating abundance of hyperbole from all sides, making it difficult to find a compromise.

Source: Modesto Bee