MID wary of groundwater rules

Proposed rules on groundwater in Stanislaus County could interfere with the Modesto Irrigation District's operations, district officials said Tuesday.

They objected to a draft ordinance aimed mainly at banning the export of ground- water from the county.

MID officials said they share the concern about exports but that other parts of the proposal could make it hard for them to supplement their main Tuolumne River supply with wells.

"This handcuffs us in terms of our operations," said Walter Ward, assistant general manager for water operations.

The MID board voted 5-0 to express the concerns to the Stanislaus County Agricultural Advisory Committee, which will recommend a final course of action to the county Board of Supervisors.

The proposal emerged in response to a few farmers who last year pumped ground- water on their west county land and transferred it to their water-short acreage west of Fresno via the federal Delta-Mendota Canal.

The volume of the transfer — close to 4,000 acre-feet, according to the attorney for the farmers — is relatively small, but critics raised concerns that exports could increase as supplies run short elsewhere.

The ordinance also would bar landowners from drilling wells that draw groundwater from their neighbors' land. Ward said this could be tough for the MID, which could need to add to the wells in the narrow rights of way along its canals.

The ordinance would exempt "the historical use of groundwater by a recognized water district." Ward said the language is unclear on how this would be defined and on whether changes in MID well operations could trigger the rules.

District general counsel Tim O'Laughlin said the threat of exports is confined to areas near major canals, such as the Delta-Mendota.

"This is taking a sledge-hammer approach to a problem that really isn't a problem in Stanislaus County right now," he said.

District staff said the county's main goal should be limiting development on land that is flood-irrigated to recharge the aquifers beneath it. In wet years, the MID has provided extra river water to growers for this purpose.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.