Here’s a dilemma that not many elected boards face — should the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board reduce water rates by 7 percent to Division 9 farmers or keep them flat and build up a hedge to soften future rate hikes that may be triggered by electricity prices?
Division 9 is the pressurized irrigation water system south of Manteca and west of Ripon that has earned national acclaim for how it is employing technology to significantly reduce water use, boost per acre crop production, combat soil salinity, eliminate power use for farmers to irrigate their orchards as well as crops and even reduce air pollution by eliminating the need for diesel generators to pump water.
The current rate of $44 per acre foot of water adopted in February of 2016 consisted of $10 for replacement of capital assets in the pressurized system as they fail and $34 for electricity to operate the pressurized system. The electrical portion — on the board’s directive — would be adjusted annually to the price of electricity. The adjustment directive would expire in 2021 unless a future board opts to extend it.
SSJID’s electrical bill for operating the Division 9 pressurized system was $234,369 in 2015 and $210,941 in 2016. The change is credited partially to delivering a little less water due to conservation efforts but the primary reason is the system was operated more efficiently in 2016.
The board has three options when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11001 East Highway 120, Manteca. They are:
uReduce rates from $44 to $41 by taking no action.
uPossibly reducing the subsidy for pressurization service from water sales to outside agencies.
uNot reducing rates and building a cushion against future increases from PG&E so that future rate hikes would have less of an impact.
While staff is recommending no action and at first glance the board could avoid any backlash by not revisiting the issue and let the rate drop, the exanimation of rates, expenses, and how the SSJID operates financially is something the agency constantly does so the board can determine if the district is on the right path.
One of the fights SSJID is pursuing in regards to water rights is not losing the ability to sell water that they have legal adjudicated pre-1916 rights that is saved from enhanced conservation practices including pressurization.
The district is studying pressurization of all are parts or the rest of the SSJID system to reduce costs to farmers and significantly reduce water use. Such an endeavor carries a hefty price tag. The sale of water to other jurisdictions that is a brisk demand even in non-drought years would cover the tab.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com