The notion of Turlock Irrigation District customers selling remaining available water for their own financial gain was a point of contention on Tuesday between the Board of Directors and local farmers.
While one farmer said that Modesto Irrigation District openly allows individuals to sell water to their neighbors for profit, Hilmar farmer Russell Silva voiced his opposition to the idea.
“I understand that this concept of selling water is taken by MID, but this water in the valley belongs to the farmer and I don’t believe that it’s right that we should sell it to anybody,” said Silva. “I don’t believe that there is any reason why we should profit from the selling of water individually because it belongs to the whole valley.”
Director Michael Frantz agreed with Silva, saying that the water is a community resource that belongs to the people of the District, so he too did not support individual farmers or people that profit by selling available water.
Frantz also added that although MID allows the selling of District water for profit, it was not an ability that came without controversy.
“It was done as a measure to help the farming community during this really tough time,” said Frantz. “Those who voted for it, their hearts were in the right spot and it was an attempt to make water available in an open market system, and those that voted against it, they too had good, philosophical reasons supporting their negative vote.
“One could make compelling arguments for either side,” continued Frantz.
TID Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian said that if TID sees an individual who is attempting to sell water for individual profit and staff is able to verify a parcel number, the District will put a hold on those parcels.
“They can’t do anything,” said Kavarian. “Even if they sell their water, they could not transfer their water.”
Additionally Kavarian said that although he believes there are no legal sanctions against the selling of TID water for individual gain, it at least allows the District to have a conversation with the customer in order to explain the water transfer rule.
“They are doing something that we are not accustomed to and they are getting a profit from something that in reality isn’t really theirs because they haven’t purchased it,” said Kavarian.
This debate spurred from the discussion and amendment to Resolution No. 2015-12, specifically Irrigation Rule 6.8.1, that was approved in 2014.This resolution relaxed the water transfer rule to allow customers to transfer water from parcels that they rent or lease this season even though they did not rent or lease the parcel during the 2014 irrigation season, however, the District’s records must show that the parcel received irrigation water during the previous year.
Previously, the rule only allowed landowners to transfer water from an owned or rental parcel to another parcel owned or rented by the landowner, provided both parcels were entitled to receive water and the parcel was rented to the same landowner or irrigator during the previous irrigation season.
“Due to the third year of the drought last year, the Board relaxed that particular irrigation rule to allow customers who are renting the parcel the current year to be able to transfer water,” said Kavarian. “As we went through the irrigation season, we realized that there were some people that had taken advantage of that later on for financial gain.
“So, we felt as staff that we had to try to put something in the rule or a policy or a resolution that tried to stop that part of it,” continued Kavarian.
In response, the Board voted in March to revise the rule in order to include a stipulation for customers who were interested in transferring water from parcels that have not been previously rented by, requiring them to fill out a Rented Parcel Water Transfer Form by June 30 of the current irrigation season.
The form was developed to prevent customers from profiting from the sale of District water, as well as to keep that water in Don Pedro Reservoir for a possible dry year in 2016. Customers were notified of the change in policy in April.
This irrigation season, 68 individuals have complied with the new policy, while numerous individuals called this past month to ask if they could transfer water from parcels that they did not rent in 2014. These requests were all denied and customers were notified that the water transfer could not be completed because the deadline to submit the Rented Parcel Water Transfer Forms had already passed.
“We’ve told customers that June 30 was the deadline and they understood—some of them not as well as others did—but they understood and they did not pursue it from there,” said Kavarian.
Despite staff’s recommendation to not modify or amend the water transfer rule because of the belief that staff has notified customers of the change in a timely manner and a number of customers have duly complied, the Board voted to slightly amend the resolution by allowing customers who have verifiable proof, such as a cancelled check of a notarized lease or rental agreement prior to June 30, to transfer water from parcels that have not been previously rented.
“If a person can bring in verifiable proof that they did rent the land prior to the date, but did not fulfill the technical aspect of our form, I think that we could and should accept that,” said Frantz. “It does not move the date and it does not move the overall principal of us trying to prevent profiteering from the community’s water.”