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Tri-Dam provides SSJID with powerful budget

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POSTED December 13, 2012 12:37 a.m.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District is unlike most other government agencies in the region when it comes to the impact of The Great Recession.

It has more than adequate revenues. It has not resorted to furloughs to reduce labor costs. It has not had a rate increase for water for 24 years with the exception of a state mandated conservation fee charge implemented earlier this year. And it has accelerated its major capital improvement project schedule.

And that is on top of expecting to end the current year with a projected $58 million in reserves that are more than double the cost of running the entire district for a year.

It can all be attributed to a decision in the early 1950s to partner with Oakdale Irrigation District to build the Tri-Dam Project that generates and sells wholesale electricity as well as store water. After a 50-year contract with PG&E ended that allowed the bonds to be paid off without burdening district taxpayers, the SSJID board has used the Tri-Dam proceeds to make major irrigation system improvements and continue to keep a lid on water rates.

The SSJID board on Tuesday approved a $27 million spending plan for 2013 that includes capital expenditures of $4.7 million to improve irrigation infrastructure and equipment replacement at the DeGroot Water Treatment Plant.

The budget includes a conservative $7 million distribution to the SSJID of its share of Tri-Dam Project revenue that is in excess of operating expenses for the wholesale power system. SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said that number is on the “conservative side” as the district deliberately under budgets anticipated power sale receipts to avoid being surprised by a shortfall.

The receipts from the Tri-Dam Project - as well as water sales to other districts - have allowed the SSJID to essentially build a $58 million investment war chest.

Since 2003, the district has used $53 million in Tri-Dam receipts to upgrade the irrigation system as well as put in place a state-of-the-art drip irrigation delivery system in Division 9 south of Manteca.

Since the Great Recession accelerated, the district has stepped up capital projects in a bid to take advantage of less expensive construction costs as well as to help strengthen the economy.

 The district plans to tap into the reserves to finance the purchase of the PG&E delivery system within SSJID boundaries to reduce the power costs of all retail users in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon by 15 percent. Before they can do that, though, they need to get the go ahead from the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission in early 2013.

PA Consulting - a firm working for LAFCo - concluded that it was indeed feasible for SSJID to deliver lower priced retail power based on the value they believed the PG&E system is worth which was considerably more than SSJID’s estimate. By committing $39 million of the $58 million the district has stashed away from Tri-Dam proceeds upfront, plus borrowing, and infusing $15 million a year until those bonds are paid off, the independent consultant recommended by PG&E determined SSJID could indeed deliver power at 15 percent under PG&E’s cost.

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