San Diego County Water Authority Extends Agricultural Water Rate through 2020
The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), at their March 26, 2015 Board meeting, extended the current Transitional Special Agricultural Water Rate (TSAWR) through December 31, 2020. According to the Board’s action, if the TSAWR is uncontested in 2020 it will automatically be continued. “This decision is a culmination of ongoing efforts by the Commission and San Diego County Farm Bureau to advocate the benefits of maintaining the TSAWR to the County Water Authority,” said Charley Wolk, Commission Water Committee Chair. Two SDCWA Board members, Gary Arant, Valley Center Water District General Manager, and Bryan Brady, Fallbrook Public Utilities District General Manager, also played a critical role in the successful outcome through their resolute support of the program.
“The 5-year extension and the possibility for continuing the TSAWR beyond 2020 if uncontested represents a huge shift in the Board’s past actions,” said Tom Bellamore, Commission President. “In previous years extensions had to be negotiated annually with SDCWA staff and Board members,” he said. For 2015 the TSAWR program provides a savings of $374 per acre foot ($192 storage and $182 supplemental exemptions) for participating farmers. With a little over 20,000 acres of avocados in San Diego County, assuming half are opted-in and use 3 acre feet of water per acre, the TSAWR represents an annual savings of more than $11.2 million dollars to those participating avocado growers. This is significant to an industry already battling out of control water costs.
While the extension of the TSAWR is good news, unfortunately it seems some bad news is imminent. As with all basic economics, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and part of the justification for the TSAWR is an exclusion from the storage and supplemental supply costs. This means TSAWR customers have not been paying their full proportion for the costs to build additional storage capacity or for the development of additional supplies (Imperial Irrigation District transfers, lining of the canal, and soon the Carlsbad desalination facility). The TSAWR supply is entirely sourced from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) supply. As the State’s historic drought continues water agencies are preparing to implement mandatory cuts to customers. Growers who are participating in the TSAWR program are subject to supply cutbacks at a level equal with MWD’s cuts to their member agencies, such as SDCWA. The level of MWD cuts will be determined in the next couple of months and are anticipated to range from 10-20%, with likely implementation in July, 2015. Growers who are not participating in the TSAWR pay the full Municipal and Industrial rates, and will probably face cuts that are half of the MWD cuts.
The Commission will continue to work with water agencies to identify possible options that result in any possible savings to growers, but as the drought continues it becomes more and more difficult.