Both candidates for a seat on the Turlock Irrigation District Board endorse the agency’s position on the flows of the Tuolumne River. And they hope to guide TID as it meets state green energy mandates.
David Yonan takes on Wayne Zipser in the Nov. 8 contest in Division 2, at and near Ceres between Highway 99 and Santa Fe Avenue. Incumbent Charles Fernandes did not seek reelection to a seat that he has occupied since 2001.
Incumbent Joe Alamo was unopposed in Division 4, the northwest portion of TID. Just like Ron Macedo in Division 5, the South.
TID irrigates approximately 149,000 acres between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers. It has around 105,000 electricity customers in the same area, plus Patterson and part of the hills to the west.
Zipser, 68, may have more recognition thanks to his nearly two decades as executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, retiring in April. He also worked in farm management.
Yonan, 61, grows almond trees and grapes and is an agribusiness consultant. He previously worked for Bank of America.
The new member could face a fourth straight year of drought in 2023. Farmers have been capped at around 80% of their normal deliveries in 2021 and around 60% this year.
TID also faces longer-term challenges under a state plan to roughly double discharge from Don Pedro Reservoir to help fish in the lower Tuolumne. Talks were recently reignited on a deal that could leave more water for farms, although details are not yet public. The Modesto Irrigation District and San Francisco would also be involved in the agreement with the State Water Resources Control Board.
On the energy side, TID must leverage its current wind power and other resources to meet a mandate of 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2045. California will also ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035, so the district has begun planning how to meet charger demand.
Yonan and Zipser discussed the issues via questionnaires emailed by The Modesto Bee.
Water for fish and farms
On the issue of river flow, Yonan said: “…I support the management of TID and its team of respected hydrologists in using a science-based approach to water discharge for fish in the part Lower Tuolumne River.”
Zipser said he hoped the compromise would work, but noted that the state board “has a history of moving the goalposts on this issue. … More importantly, the state should know that TID will take all possible measures to protect our community from water and our economy, which relies on that water.
Both candidates said TID staff are skilled at planning for droughts and dealing with high flows during rainy seasons. They noted the upcoming construction of two small reservoirs to capture water that might otherwise flow out the ends of the canal.
“TID has always been the most prepared district during drought and flood situations,” Yonan said, “given its ability to react quickly and utilize its superior team of hydrologists and superior data.”
Zipser cited a drought relief program that allows farmers to transfer water between them, and the long-term balanced use of groundwater and river supplies.
“The (State) Department of Water Resources declares Stanislaus County to be the only county in the Central Valley that does not have a critical overdraft of our groundwater, and this is an acknowledgment to all of our districts in irrigation,” he said.
Wind, solar and more
Zipser said TID has “made great strides” in achieving the 2030 renewable mandate with wind, solar, geothermal and small hydro plants. He would fight a state provision that excludes large hydroelectric plants from Don Pedro, “which in my opinion is a very renewable and clean source of energy.”
Both candidates support the idea of installing solar panels above TID channels, which could reduce evaporation while generating electricity. This year, the district secured a $20 million grant from the state to conduct a pilot project with UC Merced and other partners.
“Ultimately,” Yonan said, “the district will have to invest in more solar power, but with the addition of storage batteries to support it.”
Electric vehicles are coming
The emergence of electric vehicles will require chargers of various types, including home garages, business fleets and public stations.
Yonan said TID had planned this well: “The district can anticipate where Level 3 (DC fast charging) will be installed and work to put in place the necessary infrastructure to accommodate it. With the exception of very old residential areas, the current infrastructure for level 1 and 2 charging is adequate.
Zipser said the pricing issue is complicated by separate mandates that will reduce natural gas as a source of electricity. And he noted that the West Side part of the district is growing particularly rapidly.
“TID has a strategic plan through 2025,” Zipser said. “I believe a new long-term strategic plan with future power supply will fulfill the mandates while keeping TID one of the lowest cost utilities in the state.”