Water reductions will affect farmers, consumers this summer

Water reductions will affect  farmers, consumers this summer
Teresa Gomez, right, city water utilities senior management analyst, and Jason Dafforn, city interim water utilities director, share news of water cutbacks with farmers. SAWR farmers will be allocated 15 percent less water. Photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — Almost half of Oceanside farmers will be allocated 15 percent less water come July.

Farmers that elected to purchase low-cost water through the San Diego County Water Authority Special Agricultural Water Rate (SAWR) will be divvied up less water. If farmers exceed their water allotments their water rates will increase significantly.

Oceanside SAWR farmers include avocado, citrus, flower and grape growers.

For crop farmers water cutbacks will likely be met by planting 15 percent less crops. For orchard farmers, reductions may, at worst, result in stumping trees.

Teresa Gomez, city water utilities senior management analyst, said consumers would see the effects of water restrictions on grocery store shelves this summer.

“It will definitely affect the price, and what we have out there,” Gomez said.

SAWR farmers pay a lower water rate to use a non-local water supply. In exchange they agree to be the first to reduce use if there is a drought or other water emergency.

Gomez said due to the risky nature of facing possible water cuts, large farms are more likely to sign up for SAWR.

Fellow water customers benefit.

“They forego the local water supply, and it frees up water for the rest of us,” Gomez said.

Come July SAWR farmers that exceed water allotments will pay steep penalties.

Those that use more than 100 percent of allocated water will pay $5.16 per unit, an increase of $3.40 over the current rate. Overuse that exceeds 115 percent of allocated water will bump up costs to $8.56 per unit.

“One unit over allocation could be a significant increase in rate,” Gomez said.

Close to half of Oceanside farmers are SAWR users.

There are 51 SAWR meters and 79 commercial agriculture meters in the city, with some farms having more than one meter, or multiple water sources on their property that include wells.

Farmers who use commercial water are Oceanside’s lowest usage group. They use 6.5 percent of the city’s water, which is significantly lower than irrigation, commercial or residential demands. These farmers do not face rate penalties, since their water supply is through the local water district.

To prepare SAWR farmers for water cutbacks, Oceanside water utilities held an information meeting on Tuesday. Each farmer was given a data sheet that listed their monthly water target based on their 2013 pre-drought use, and a city meter-reading schedule.

A free irrigation inspection was offered to farmers to check for spray uniformity and help minimize water use.

No one welcomed the news of water cutbacks, but farmers at the meeting said they were pleased they could combine meters and use water where it is needed. Month to month water banking of unused water was also seen as a plus.

Some growers said they are still concerned about allocations being tied to past years, since dry and wet months vary annually.

“January and February it didn’t rain,” Mike Mellano, Oceanside flower farmer, said. “I don’t like the idea of having to pay a penalty up front.”

There were general complaints that statewide mandates do not give Southern California credit for its previous reductions, or development of local water sources.

And concerns that mandates may work against the drought reduction plan that is in place, and have undue ill effects on the economy, industry and agriculture.

Gomez said to address the drought the city is continuing to develop local water sources, and work with all water customers to reduce use, especially high users.

“We’re always looking to improve our water efficiencies,” Gomez said

SAWR water cutbacks will be in effect for one year. Farmers do not have the option of changing their water supply within that year.

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