Growers trying to understand water cutbacks
Last updated 11/21/2007 at Noon
On November 15 at the Performing Arts Center at Fallbrook High School, seats were filled with Fallbrook agriculture growers who listened to a presentation. These attendees are also the Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) customers who will be facing a mandatory 30-percent water cutback effective January 1.
These affected farmers signed into an Interim Agricultural Water Program (IAWP), a contract allowing them to receive surplus water at a discount rate, explained Keith Lewinger of FPUD.
The program has saved an estimated $120 to $150 million to San Diego County farmers and this is the first time in the past 15 years that the Municipal Water District has mandated a 30-percent water cutback. Those who entered the IAWP understood the stipulations, knowing they would be the first customers in line affected by a water shortage.
FPUD is currently working with their IAWP customers to determine which water spreading allocation would fit their needs. There are two choices: a “Regular Month-By-Month Allocation,” which is determined by a customer’s water usage from fiscal year 2006-2007 and then reduced by 30 percent, or a “Historical FPUD Monthly Usage Percentage” in which water allocation is distributed on a monthly basis calculated by 10 years of historical water sales in Fallbrook.
Currently, 600 agriculture customers are in an IAWP contract, added Lewinger. However, there are 14 customers who joined IAWP after December 31, 2006. “For those customers, you can get out of the program. We need to hear from you by November 30,” said Lewinger.
Once out of the program, they will be paying full price for their water usage.
Those who joined before the December 2006 date are bound by their contracts. “You can’t buy your way out,” said Lewinger.
“For agriculture/domestic customers, where there is a house on the property, the first 20 units [1,000 gallons] of water that you use will be assumed for the house; this will not be cut back at all,” said Lewinger.
A new FPUD water bill is in the works, explained Lewinger. This new design will have a “banking” section. If this section ever shows an overuse of water, otherwise known as a negative allocation, a customer will be penalized $2.51 per 1,000 gallons used.
If the negative allocation occurs two months in a row, an FPUD customer could be subjected and charged for a flow restrictor installation.
“You will be billed $871 for the installation and you don’t want that,” said Lewinger. “I’m going to be watching those meters.”
Lewinger warned that if the 30-percent cutback is not enforced, the Municipal Water District could very well discontinue the water surplus program. “If we do not produce this cutback we will all be losers.”
The recent devastation of the Fallbrook (Rice Canyon) Fire has affected local farmers, resulting in burnt and destroyed groves, explained Lewinger.
Though the majority of groves burned occurred in the Rainbow Municipal Water District area, there may be FPUD customers who will not be using their irrigation systems due to fire-destroyed groves.
If this is the case, more water could be allocated to hardship cases, said Lewinger. “There may be some FPUD customers who have to cut back 40, 50 or 60 percent, so let’s try to allocate that extra water to hardship cases first.”
Available at the meeting were forms for customers who believed they could be potential hardship candidates. These forms will also be on hand at the FPUD office.
During the presentation, Farm Advisor Dr. Gary Bender highlighted ways farmers could cope with the water cutbacks.
Trees should be taken out of production and sprinklers capped for root-rot-infected trees, sun-blotch-infected trees and trees in wind-prone areas. “Remember to remove those bad trees and cap those sprinklers,” he said.
Stumping tall trees was also suggested, since those picking costs can be high. “We can have small trees and less foliage that can still bear fruit,” said Bender. He encouraged farmers to analyze and thin their groves.
Guest speaker Justin Haessley from the Mission Resource Conservation District in Fallbrook reminded farmers of the importance of implementing a proper irrigation schedule.
Having a good working irrigation system in which all sprinklers and lines are working properly gives a crop the correct amount of water, said Haessley.
“Using the CIMIS stations are good and tensiometers help measure soil moisture,” he added.
Haessley also mentioned that his department will perform a complimentary irrigation system evaluation on a two-plus-acre agriculture property. This program is sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority.
Important contact and resource information
• Mission Resource Conservation District (free irrigation system evaluation): (760) 728-1332
• Fallbrook Public Utility District: (760) 728-1125 or http://www.FPUD.com