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Ag water discounts in peril, One discount saved for two more years; another will start to disappear in 2010

FALLBROOK — Even though one interruptible discount water rate for area farmers is slated to be gradually eliminated by water wholesaler Metropolitan Water District, beginning in 2010, another has been saved.

Fortunately for farmers, the agricultural discount offered by the San Diego County Water Authority will remain in force.

Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) sources report that General Manager Keith Lewinger led the effort to save the remaining discount at the Water Authority’s October 23 board meeting, for at least another two years.

Lewinger was rewarded for his effort with unanimous approval by the board.

The continued discount could save county farmers more than $10 million in water costs each year.

At risk was a $108 per acre-foot discount farmers receive from the Water Authority in return for a lower level of reliability than full-price customers.

An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough water to sustain two families of four for one year.

Water sold through the voluntary Water Authority program is sold to farmers at a lower rate. In exchange, those farmers have less water reliability.

What this means is that if the Water Authority, which purchases most of its water from Metropolitan, is assessed a cutback of, say, 15 percent, farmers enrolled in the program will be assessed that same 15-percent cutback but full-price customers will not.

With the support of their own boards of directors, Lewinger and Gary Arant, general manager of Valley Center Water District, endeavored to educate other Water Authority board members about the benefits the discount program provides to both farmers and urban customers in the county.

“We spent much of September and October meeting with other Water Authority board members and other agency staffs to explain it to them,” Lewinger said. “Our work paid off; there were no objections to continuing the discount program for at least two more years.”

FPUD and Valley Center water districts have many growers enrolled in both discount programs. About half of FPUD’s and 80 percent of Valley Center’s is sold to agricultural customers.

“With FPUD farmers buying more than 8,000 acre-feet per year, this can save them more than $800,000 per year,” explained FPUD board member Keith Battle. “Lewinger spent a lot of time out of Fallbrook over the past couple months to promote continuing the Water Authority’s special agricultural rate.”

Metropolitan will phase out its interruptible discount program over a four-year period, beginning January 1. It will diminish by 25 percent each of those years.

Under Metropolitan’s program, growers have faced a mandatory 30-percent water reduction since January 1 of this year.

The amount growers will have to cut back will also be reduced by 25 percent each year, unless mandatory cutbacks are also required for residential customers, at which time the minimum mandatory cutback for farmers will be proportionately higher.

Growers enrolled in the Metropolitan discount program are separately enrolled in the County Water Authority program.

In 2009, the Water Authority board will consider potential changes to the program. The current $108 per acre-foot discount will continue through at least December 31, 2010.

Example: Assume a customer buys 400 units per month of water and has a one-inch water meter (one unit = 1,000 gallons). This is the average water purchase for farmers in the program. Listed below are the differences in the rate with and without the two discounts.

Discount : Bill with Metropolitan Water Discount (IAWP) – which includes both Met & SDCWA discounts

Monthly Operations Charge : $57.26

Commodity : $628.00

Total Bill/month : $685.26

Discount : Bill with SDCWA discount only

Monthly Operations Charge : $57.26

Commodity : $768.00

Total Bill/month : $825.26

Discount : Bill with neither discount

Monthly Operations Charge : $57.26

Commodity : $900.00

Total Bill/month : $957.26


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