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Growers question MID water policy

A new plan that the Merced Irrigation District recently put into effect about transferring water from one grower to another met resistance at the district's board meeting Tuesday morning.

"You are keeping water from growers when we need it the most," said Enzi Sansoni, a Merced farmer.

The new plan will not allow a grower with land that has not been irrigated for the past four years to transfer his allotment to another grower. This change was made on top of cutbacks announced earlier this year.

Growers have been cut from 3 acre feet per acre to 2.5 acre feet because the district, like the rest of California, has been hit with two drought years in a row.

Sansoni said that he and other growers, who were at the meeting but didn't address the board, are not happy with the new plan."I'm looking for water wherever I can find it. This is going to be a problem," Sansoni said.

Suzy Hultgren, a board member and a local grower, said that water was allocated according to usage for the past four years. If a parcel of land hadn't been irrigated during that time, the district counted it as still having no water.

The district's policy is that growers can transfer water from one grower to another, but only if the land had been irrigated at some time during the past four years.

"There's only so much water. We can't create anymore," Hultgren said.

Sansoni also said that MID is running groundwater pumps 24 hours a day, and that is affecting the deep wells that some farmers are relying on.

Sansoni said that one of his wells is already pulling sand. Because of a low snowpack, MID is using groundwater wells to deliver about 100,000 acre feet to growers this year.

"You are taking water from under my feet and sending it down the road," he said.

Growers are also worried about the fact that last year, the MID cut off water to farmers early, then turned around and sold water to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. MID sold 25,000 acre feet for $3.5 million in 2007. The water was used to help the chinook salmon.

Wil Hunter, a board member and almond grower who was elected last year and promised that no water would be sold like that this year, assured the growers that he won't let it happen again.

"Together we can solve these problems," Hunter said.

Last year, Ted Selb, deputy general manager of the MID, said that the district sold water to stay solvent and to, hopefully, keep water flowing for the growers.

Sansoni said that if the district does sell water again, the board will hear from the growers.

"If you tell us we're out of water, you'll have a firestorm," he said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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