Earlier this year, the San Diego County Water Authority approved an ordinance adopting a Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate and setting the eligibility criteria. On Dec. 7, the Fallbrook Public Utility District board voted 5-0 to update FPUD’s Administrative Code to incorporate the PSAWR.
“It will become a permanent SAWR program with eligibility changes,” Ken Endter, board president of FPUD, said.
In 1994, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California implemented the Interim Agricultural Water Program which provided surplus supplies to agricultural customers at a discounted rate with the condition of cutbacks in a drought of up to 30% before implementing any mandatory reductions to Association of California Water Agencies’ customers. An agricultural user could choose to pay Association of California Water Agencies rates and not be subject to the cutbacks.
In October 2008, the MWD board voted to phase out the IAWP over a four-year period. In December 2008, the SDCWA board created the Transitional Special Agricultural Water Rate program for farmers who chose to opt out of the IAWP. TSAWR customers were not eligible to receive certain water from CWA augmented supply programs. The TSAWR was limited to farmers who had been in the IAWP before 2008.
The initial TSAWR was for a two-year period although in March 2010 the CWA board voted to extend the program to the end of 2012, have a revised program for 2013 through 2015, and review that program before the beginning of 2016. In April 2012, the CWA board voted to extend the TSAWR until the end of 2014.
In May 2013, the CWA convened the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force whose purpose was to provide a revised rate structure intended to avoid a situation where conservation results in increased water rates due to reduced revenue from water purchases by member agencies. The task force's report was first brought to the CWA board as an information item in February 2014. The board expressed a preference to defer action until outstanding issues could be addressed. The desire to include the TSAWR as part of the changes resulting from the task force recommendations led to a one-year extension of that program in June 2014 when the CWA’s 2014-2015 budget was approved. In March 2015, the CWA board approved several of the task force’s recommendations and extended the TSAWR until the end of 2020.
A unanimous CWA board vote in November 2019 approved making the SAWR permanent. That approval was for the framework only and did not include any criteria. The plan was for the CWA to develop and finalize new program guidelines during the first half of Calendar Year 2020 and to initiate new sign-ups during the second half of 2020. The November 2019 approval also called for an evaluation of the program every five years to review current at the time and forecast demands and supplies.
The specific rates will be part of the budget process. The June 2020 CWA meeting adopted the calendar year 2021 rates and charges, and the PSAWR was included. Future rates will continue to reflect cost of service standards and will be determined annually as part of the annual rate setting process.
On Sept. 24, the CWA approved an ordinance adopting the program and setting eligibility criteria. That action established the Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate program effective Jan. 1, 2021, and granted existing TSAWR program customers eligibility to participate in the PSAWR program on a temporary basis through June 30, 2021, which will allow member agencies sufficient time to verify compliance with the new PSAWR program's eligibility requirements.
“We’ve got about six months to get people transitioned,” Jack Bebee, general manager of FPUD, said.
The eligibility criteria for the PSAWR program requires that customers grow or raise for commercial purposes products of an agricultural, horticultural or floricultural nature.
“There is no minimum acreage anymore,” Bebee said. “Instead, the applicants need to be on one of four lists.”
CWA member agencies will be required to confirm that customers are included on one of the four lists: the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s General Agricultural Orders Enrollment List, the county’s Growers List, the county’s Active Certified Producers List or the county’s Organic Producers List.
“If they’re in the existing program and not on the list they have until July 1,” Bebee said.
As of the beginning of December, the FPUD service area included 128 TSAWR customers on one of the eligibility lists and 216 TSAWR parcels not on any list. FPUD’s website has established a page explaining the TSAWR to PSAWR transition process.
PSAWR customers will pay the MWD Tier 1 untreated supply rate, the melded treatment rate, the transportation rate, the Customer Service Charge which is intended to recover costs which support the operations of the CWA and the Infrastructure Access Charge which is used for CWA fixed expenditures incurred even when water use is reduced and is per meter equivalent rather than based on usage volume. PSAWR customers will not pay the melded supply rate which reflects water purchased from the Imperial Irrigation District under the Quantification Settlement Agreement and water produced by the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant as well as water delivered from MWD, the Storage Charge which recovers costs related to emergency storage programs, the Supply Reliability Charge or other charges related to regional conveyance.
Participation in the PSAWR is voluntary. Although the TSAWR was limited to former IAWP customers, farmers who were not in the TSAWR will be eligible for the PSAWR.
FPUD also has a Commercial Agriculture Water Rate for customers who meet that requirement and are not in the SAWR. Commercial Agriculture Water Rate customers must produce agricultural, horticultural or floricultural products for human consumption or for the market or products for the feeding of livestock for human consumption or the market including livestock products.
If a Commercial Agriculture Water Rate parcel has a permanent residence the first five units each month, regardless of the number of residences on the property, will be considered to be for domestic rather than for agricultural use. For billing purposes one unit is equal to 1,000 gallons. If a PSAWR parcel has a permanent residence the first 17 units each month will not be eligible for the PSAWR rate.
FPUD’s 2021 PSAWR rates for the first five units each month are $6.83, while PSAWR customers will pay $5.86 for the sixth through 17th unit and $5.06 for each unit beginning with the 18th. Commercial Agriculture Water Rate customers will have 2021 rates of $6.83 for the first five units and $5.86 for each additional unit. For domestic customers FPUD’s 2021 rate is $6.83 for the first five units each month, $6.92 for the sixth through 30th units and $7.44 for each unit exceeding 30.
Joe Naiman can be reached by email at [email protected].