Farms and cities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley could benefit from the water package approved by state lawmakers Wednesday, but details remain unsettled.
The legislation calls for new water storage, possibly on the upper San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, to help meet demand from California's growing population.
These projects conceivably would reduce pressure on the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts to share their supply from Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River.
It remains to be seen how much Don Pedro water might have to be released to help restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta downstream, MID spokeswoman Kate Hora said. The package might involve fees on district ratepayers to help with delta fixes.
"I think it's fair to say it will take time to analyze the implications this has for MID ratepayers' water and money," Hora said.
TID board member Randy Fiorini said lawmakers improved on earlier language that could have required substantial releases from Don Pedro and other reservoirs.
The legislation includes a new government body to seek solutions for the delta. This could include a new canal around this maze of channels so salmon and smelt are not harmed by the massive pumps that send water south.
"The delta needs to be fixed, but it's not going to be fixed by releasing more water from upstream," said Fiorini, a past president of the Association of California Water Agencies. "It's going to be fixed by making the system more flexible."
MID and TID have long-running rights to the Tuolumne. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts have long tapped the Stanislaus River.
The package includes delta levee improvements, aimed at protecting them from earthquakes and other threats that could lead to sea water intrusion. Cities could benefit from water recycling and conservation help. Tuolumne County and other forested areas could get money for managing watersheds in a way that improves runoff.
State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, said the package is a welcome sign of bipartisanship in the Capitol.
"Nothing is more important to the state's economic prosperity than ensuring that we have water to meet California's needs now and into the future," he said in a statement. "With this plan, we can improve the state's water supply and protect the environment, without destroying our economy."
Cogdill, vice chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, said the package could help the parts of the valley where drought and delta fish protection have led to fallowed farmland and job losses.
This includes the West Side, where federal water deliveries dropped to 10 percent of contract amounts this year. The threat of this happening in the future would ease if new reservoirs stored excess water from wet years and if fish recovered via improvements to the delta ecosystem.
State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, voted against the package because it had no guarantee that dams would be built.
Voters might be leery about the $11.1 billion bond issue that would fund the package, but Fiorini said they should take a long view.
"The state is dependent on a reliable supply of water," he said, "and if we don't get it, the cost to the economy would be greater than the investment."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.