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TID, Del Puerto feud over Turlock water
waste water pic
The City of Turlock was slated to approve a water transfer agreement between the City and Del Puerto Water District that would see a 13,000-acre foot annual transfer of Turlocks tertiary treated recycled water to help benefit both regions under a five-year agreement. - photo by Journal file photo

The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors got a surprise visitor during their Tuesday meeting, as the general manager of the Del Puerto Water District —  the district TID is currently battling for Turlock’s recycled water —  came to voice her concern.

Saying that the Board of Directors were taking action on a supply of water that is “already spoken for,” Del Puerto General Manager Anthea Hansen attended the morning meeting to request that the district abandon its effort to overturn Del Puerto’s pending agreement with the City of Turlock.

The issue first came to light in early January, when board members and staff from TID attended a Turlock City Council meeting where city officials were slated to approve a water transfer agreement between the City and Del Puerto Water District that would see a 13,000-acre foot annual transfer of Turlock’s tertiary treated recycled water to help benefit both regions under a five-year agreement. Claiming that the water in question had been previously promised to TID, district president Ron Macedo requested that the City consider postponing the agreement until the two agencies had met to discuss the confusion.  The agreement, which Hansen says has taken her district years to develop alongside Turlock and other cities, was put on hold by the City Council, which has since formed a committee with TID representatives.

On Tuesday morning, the TID Board of Directors took further action on the issue, voting to appoint General Manager Casey Hashimoto as the lead negotiator with the City of Turlock as the district continues to pursue the long term acquisition of the City’s recycled water for irrigation purposes.

“The city deferred our approval for time to reconcile the misunderstandings,” said Hansen to the TID Board of Directors. “I was somewhat surprised to see an action item on your agenda that would see your general manager act as a negotiator for a source of supply that has already been identified and committed to my board and the landowners in the Del Puerto Water District.”

Hansen’s district, which serves approximately 45,000 acres between Vernalis and Santa Nella, is one of the many smaller water districts within the drought-stricken valley depending on the State Water Project, which recently reported a zero percent allocation for its serviced communities. With the ongoing drought, the dire cut in promised water deliveries, and lack of groundwater wells, Hansen says that Del Puerto’s survival has depended on programs such as the collaborative partnerships the district has been seeking with Turlock. Without such agreements, Hansen says that Del Puerto will likely fallow 20,000 acres of farmland.

“We need an immediate reliable water supply,” said Hansen. “[The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program] will give us a base for us to rely on because our contract has become so unreliable.”

Working with the cities of Turlock, Modesto, Ceres and Stanislaus County over the past four years developing the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, Del Puerto Water District has been progressing towards a regional solution to its water shortages until the district can seek long term solutions.  According to Hansen, Del Puerto’s efforts in culminating the agreement with Turlock has included numerous efforts on the district’s behalf, including negotiated contracts with non-refundable deposits, trips to Washington, D.C. to receive bipartisan letters of support, filed applications with the State Water Control Board, and great amounts of feasibility studies – all with only about four or five staff members.

“We’re a very small agency,” said Hansen. “Because our contract is subject to shortages and increased environmental regulations, we’ve become highly efficient. The majority of our landowners use drip systems…Your staff, like all the staffs at every water agency in the state right now, is working hard with the drought…But I would urge you to consider the expenses we’ve incurred and understand that the disruption your action is making to our long-term effort…With all due respect, please abandon your efforts to derail our efforts with the City of Turlock, and allow us the opportunity to have our efforts come to completion.”

According to Hansen, the district would need 90,000-acre feet of water just to get by. By transferring 13,000-acre feet of tertiary treated recycled water from Turlock’s Regional Water Quality Control Facility to Del Puerto each year, Hansen says the district would be in much better shape, as they have not received a full allocation in more than two decades. Additionally, Hansen believes the 13,000-acre feet of recycled water would better serve the nearly 160 farmers in Del Puerto Water District than where Turlock is currently discharging it in the San Joaquin River. Working alongside the Patterson Irrigation District to deliver the water from the San Joaquin River to the Delta Mendota Canal, Del Puerto would divert the water through their existing turnouts on the canal to provide the water to their irrigators. 

Although Hansen deemed TID’s sudden interest in Turlock’s recycled water and sense of urgency in deferring Del Puerto’s efforts as “un-neighborly,” the Board of Directors claimed that was not their intention. 

“I appreciate the multi-year scope of your project, but water dynamics are changing here in Turlock,” said TID Director Michael Frantz. “We’ve been working for many years with Turlock and surrounding communities for a regional surface water plant…But as we go through that process, that is water currently being used by farmers. I’m a strong supporter of making surface water available to our cities, but I think it is incumbent on the cities to mitigate the impacts on our farmers who are using that water currently...This water supply that could have gone elsewhere is needed for our program to move forward…I do understand and empathize, it’s not fun to be dry. It would be different if there was enough water to go around, but there’s not.”

Macedo told Hansen that although he understood Del Puerto’s situation, and had no intent on being a bad neighbor, TID would continue to have meetings with the City to try to find ways to help everybody in the region.

“Appointing the general manager as a lead negotiator is just a formality,” said Macedo to Hansen. “A formality to just keep all avenues open – the discussions will continue.”

Turlock Irrigation District landowner and Ceres native April Premo spoke against TID’s decision to move forward with appointing the general manager as the lead negotiator for Turlock’s recycled water, reprimanding the board for attempting to acquire water that is necessary for Del Puerto’s survival at such late notice.

“This lady here has talked about her farmers becoming efficient, using sprinklers to irrigate because of shortages,” said Premo. “But let me tell you, it’s a drought year. Before you take other people’s water, make your own efficient. You guys are so far behind the ball in water efficiency…If you wanted to do something like this, waiting for a drought year to do so is not the year to do it. This is something that should have been thought out 10 years ahead, and this board does not do that.”

While Frantz agreed that TID has more work to do in becoming more efficient, he asserted that the board remains “very focused on bringing TID into the 21st century.” Regardless, all five TID directors agreed that with the region’s dwindling water supply, they would continue to pursue keeping Turlock’s recycled water within the district.

“I am very sympathetic towards Del Puerto, because, yes, they are drier than us,” said TID Director and Vice President Joe Alamo. “But we need to take care of our own area first. This is a game-changing time in water in this area, and we need to look at all the possibilities.”

The Board unanimously voted to appoint General Manager Hashimoto as the lead negotiator, who will continue to meet with Turlock representatives, staff and two board members throughout discussions.

Although City of Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke and former director Dan Madden were in attendance, the two did not offer a comment on behalf of the City.

At this point it remains uncertain as to whether the City of Turlock will move forward with the Del Puerto five-year water transfer agreement, which would generate nearly $800,000 in revenue per year for Turlock.