Farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District could get a 10 percent increase in their water rates.
The district board last week set a March 9 public hearing on the proposal. Under state law, it could not be carried out if a majority of landowners object.
Under the proposal, farmers would pay $28 per acre for the base allotment of Tuolumne River water, up from $25.50.
The 2010 allotment is tentatively set at three acre-feet per acre, a relatively low level because of the continuing drought. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep.
The plan calls for an additional half acre-foot of river water for $7, up from $6.38 last year. Water beyond that amount could be provided from district-owned wells, where available, for $20 per acre-foot.
This would be the second straight year that river water is capped at 3½-acre-feet. The MID staff had recommended a 4-acre-foot cap for 2010, but the board trimmed it at Director Paul Warda's suggestion.
"I just want to be safe rather than sorry," he said.
The central Sierra Nevada snowpack, which feeds the Tuolumne River, was 76 percent of average as of Thursday. Water watchers hope that the series of storms expected this week will make a difference.
"We have had three dry years in a row," said Walter Ward, assistant general manager for water operations at the MID. "We don't know what this year is going to be."
The rates have been going up about the same amount in recent years as the district tries to cover the cost of the water system. This includes operation and maintenance of the canals, as well as legal work to protect the MID's water rights.
To comply with Proposition 218, the district will send notices of the proposed increase to its nearly 3,000 landowners. They can file objections at or before the March 9 hearing.
The proposal comes as the board considers an 11 percent electricity rate increase, which is not covered by the Proposition 218 process. The power issue will return to the board Jan. 26.
The Turlock Irrigation District, which also taps the Tuolumne, is raising water rates this year as part of a two-step increase approved in late 2008.
This includes a $26-per-acre charge for the base allotment of water, up from $23. The amount of water in the allotment will be decided about the start of spring.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.