The City of Patterson and surrounding areas want a voice on the Turlock Irrigation District board, but TID says annexation of the Westside would harm its irrigation service and be too costly.
TID serves Patterson with electricity due to the district’s 2003 purchase of a 225-square mile region known as the Westside Electrical Service Area from Pacific Gas & Electric. But the district at that time did not annex the WESA into its official boundaries, leaving the service area without a representative on the TID board.
On Aug. 14, Patterson filed with the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission requesting TID annex the entire WESA for electrical service reasons.
“We think this is the only fair way to get representation,” explained Dennis Beougher, Patterson attorney.
But on Tuesday, the District Board of Directors voted to request LAFCO terminate the annexation process, as legal counsel informed TID it must assume both electric and water service requirements if the WESA is annexed.
“LAFCO says there is no annexation only for electrical,” said Dave Hobbs, TID assistant general counsel. “The district would be obligated to provide water services as well as electrical services.”
And the district is not required to annex an area to provide it with electricity, per California water law, Hobbs continued.
But should the area be annexed, it would have to be treated as if it was a member of the district from TID’s inception, granting residents full irrigation water rights, under Hobbs interpretation of the law. That shift would see TID gain an additional 44,000 irrigation acres on top of the existing 150,000 acres in district boundaries – a 29 percent increase.
“At this point we're not even sure that, even if we wanted to get the water over there, that we'd be able to,” Hobbs said.
If TID was forced to deliver water to the WESA, the shift would result in a 13 percent water reduction to existing irrigation customers, based on district projections. The shift would also cost the district tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in new improvements – larger main canals and new canals connecting to the WESA, including a Stanislaus River crossing – which would have to be paid for by WESA farmers.
Even should an electric-only annexation be possible, the move would create questions on the board, Hobbs said, with a director representing only an electric district. It remains uncertain if that director would or should have full voting privileges over issues of both water and power, would step down on water decisions, or would vote only on water matters concerning electricity, such as irrigation releases that generate hydroelectric power.
“It's not so easy to split the water and the electricity, because they're hand in hand,” Hobbs said.
The matter remains far from settled, as the annexation now awaits action by LAFCO, or a response from the City of Patterson. On Tuesday, the City of Patterson did not return calls for comment.
But at Tuesday’s meeting Beougher disagreed with Hobbs’s interpretation of the law, arguing that a different section of the government code allows for the district to annex the WESA for electrical service only, potentially setting up a legal battle. He also argued that giving the WESA a voice on the board was the only fair solution for a currently marginalized population.
“You can put any rates you want on the Westside,” Beougher said. “None of you represent any of those 10,000 customers. That's fundamentally wrong. That's what we're here for.”
Hughson-Grayson line moves forward
The Turlock Irrigation District also approved resolutions of necessity for 22 parcels located along the route of the planned Hughson-Grayson 115 kilovolt electrical transmission line, clearing the way for the district to seize the property through eminent domain.
The move is just the next step in the eminent domain process, TID said, and does not preclude property owners from continuing negotiations with the district. The eminent domain process is meant as a last resort, the district said, to ensure construction may proceed on time.
Construction is currently nearing completion on the Grayson Substation, located near Crows Landing. Work on the transmission line is expected to begin in the next few months.
Currently, about half of the affected property owners have come to a sale or easement agreement with TID.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.