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CWA approves ag conservation programs with MWD, Mission RCD

The San Diego County Water Authority approved two agricultural water conservation program agreements during the SDCWA’s June 24 board meeting.

Unanimous board votes authorized the CWA’s general manager to execute an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to participate in MWD’s Agricultural Water Conservation Program for fiscal year 2010-11 and extended for one year the CWA’s contract with the Mission Resource Conservation District to operate the CWA’s Agricultural Water Management Program. The contract amendment with the Mission RCD also modifies its scope to implement the MWD program.

“We’re encouraged that Metropolitan will now have an agricultural conservation program,” said CWA water conservation program executive Bill Rose. “The actions by the board today will allow us to participate in that program and do it as efficiently as possible.”

Since 1990 the CWA has contracted with the Mission RCD to operate agricultural water management services. The RCD has provided more than 1,850 water audits covering more than 30,000 acres of farmland. The goal of the voluntary program is to provide technical assistance to growers which will enable them to irrigate crops as efficiently as possible. The audits include visual observations of the irrigation system, examination of soil and crop materials, pump testing, and answering questions from the grower.

A written report is provided which summarizes the irrigation system’s hydraulic characteristics and soil profiles and provides recommendations to improve the overall system efficiency, and potential yield improvements and water savings are explained to the grower. Follow-up service is also provided.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the district, and I’m glad to continue it. They do a fine job,” Rose said.

The previous agreement between the CWA and the RCD was approved in May 2007 and covered fiscal years 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10. The new agreement utilizes $75,000 of grant funding from Proposition 50, which was approved by state voters in November 2002, for the one-year extension period.

“We’re delighted that we can still continue,” said Mission RCD executive director Judy Mitchell.

MWD has not previously had an agricultural water conservation program, but in May 2010 the MWD board approved a water conservation plan which included an agricultural program for fiscal year 2010-11. MWD has budgeted $2 million for that program and will pay not only for the post-audit but for a portion of capital improvements. MWD will fund 10 years of calculated water savings at $195 per acre foot or half of the approved project costs, whichever is less, for water-saving capital improvements.

The MWD program requires MWD member agencies to utilize local conservation districts to perform the program’s initial and final audits, so the CWA’s contract with the Mission RCD was amended to incorporate the MWD program.

“It’s not just a renewal. It’s really an important enhancement program,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell noted that adverse economic conditions often prevent farmers from being able to fund capital improvements, including water conservation improvements.

“Now they’re going to get financial help to make them, so we’re really pleased about that,” Mitchell said.

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