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TUD OKs Chicken Ranch water deal

An historic agreement was made in the Tuolumne Utilities District boardroom Tuesday afternoon, though it would be hard to tell that from all of the empty seats.

Less than a dozen people attended the regular public meeting and witnessed the TUD board vote 5-0 to approve an agreement with South San Joaquin Irrigation District and the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California to buy up to 2,400 acre-feet of Stanislaus River water. The tribe will purchase the water for $200 per acre-foot — a bargain when considering current market prices range from $400 to $1,350 — and resell the supply to TUD at cost, under the approved deal.

Water experts say it could mark the first time such an agreement has been made for a water transfer between two U.S. municipal water agencies with an American Indian tribe acting as middleman in the deal. Tuolumne Utilities District Manager Tom Scesa said at the meeting that the board will still need to approve another agreement with the tribe for the resale, which he and the district’s attorney, Jesse Barton, were working to finalize.

Scesa didn’t specify when the separate purchase agreement between the tribe and TUD would be ready for the board to vote, but noted that “things are looking well.”

District officials say historic drought conditions made the water purchase necessary to ensure supplies would last through 2014 for the 44,000 people who use a combined 17,000 acre-feet of TUD water each year.

For the full story, see the March 12 edition of The Union Democrat.   

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