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CWA approves two-month extension of PSAWR eligibility transition

When the San Diego County Water Authority adopted the Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate, the SDCWA also adopted eligibility criteria but allowed previous Temporary Special Agricultural Water Rate customers a six-month grace period to establish eligibility. The CWA extended that transitional eligibility period by an additional two months June 24.

The unanimous CWA board vote extends the temporary eligibility period to Aug. 31. Although the six CWA member agencies who requested an extension of the eligibility period sought a six-month extension, the CWA's Financial Strategy Working Group recommended the two-month extension which was approved by the CWA board.

"We appreciate the extension of time," said Rainbow Municipal Water District general manager Tom Kennedy, who is also Rainbow's representative on the CWA board.

"The district is pleased that the PSAWR program is being extended as there are additional requirements that growers need to meet," said Fallbrook Public Utility District general manager Jack Bebee, who is the FPUD delegate to the CWA board. "We have done substantial outreach to eligible growers and are hopeful this extension will result in the remaining growers enrolling in the program."

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% prior to implementing any mandatory reductions to municipal and industrial customers.

An agricultural user could choose to pay M&I rates and not be subject to the cutbacks. In 2008, the MWD board voted to phase out the IAWP over a four-year period and in December 2008 the CWA board created the Transitional Special Agricultural Water Rate program for farmers who chose to opt out of the IAWP. The TSAWR was limited to farmers who had been in the IAWP prior to 2008, and TSAWR customers were not eligible to receive certain water from CWA augmented supply programs.

The initial TSAWR was for a two-year period, although the CWA board approved four extensions with the most recent of those extending the TSAWR to the end of 2020. A unanimous CWA board vote in November 2019 approved making the SAWR permanent, although that approval was for the framework only and did not include any criteria, and that November 2019 vote also called for an evaluation of the program every five years to review current (at the time) and forecasted demands and supplies.

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 specific rates will be part of the CWA's annual budget process and will reflect cost of service standards.

In September 2020, the CWA board established the Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate program effective Jan. 1, 2021, and set eligibility criteria. Existing TSAWR customers were granted eligibility to participate in the PSAWR program on a temporary basis through June 30, 2021, which gave CWA member agencies time to verify compliance with the new program's eligibility requirements.

The PSAWR eligibility requirements include that customers grow or raise for commercial purposes products of an agricultural, horticultural, or floricultural nature. Member agencies are required to confirm that PSAWR customers are on one of four lists: the Regional Water Quality Control Board General Agricultural Orders Enrollment List, the county's Growers List, the county's Active Certified Producers List, or the county's Organic Producers List.

The IAWP and TSAWR had minimum acreage requirements, but the PSAWR does not stipulate a minimum acreage. Although the TSAWR was limited to former IAWP customers, farmers who were not in the TSAWR are eligible for the PSAWR. Participation in the PSAWR is voluntary.

Enrollment on one of the lists is a process, and coronavirus restrictions have caused delays while changing the priorities of farmers. Recent news regarding a potential drought has caused farmers to contemplate whether the PSAWR discount merits the risk of cutbacks.

Many water agencies have noticed that only a minority of TSAWR customers have been verified for the PSAWR; the figures are 40% in the Vallecitos Water District, 35% in the Valley Center Municipal Water District, 34% in the City of Oceanside, 28% in the Fallbrook Public Utility District, 28% in the Rainbow Municipal Water District, and 16% in the Yuima Municipal Water District.

"A lot of our customers are wrestling with the decision and trying to understand what the new rules require," Kennedy said.

Kennedy noted that the savings for larger growers have for the most part caused them to undertake the expense required to be on one or more of the eligibility lists as well as to accept the risk of cutbacks. "It's really the smaller users who are on the fence," he said.

The CWA is not expected to issue any additional extensions. "People need to get moved over," said Lakeside Water District board member Frank Hilliker, who is Lakeside's representative on the CWA board.

Hilliker is the only farmer on the CWA board; he and other family members own the egg ranch his grandfather founded in 1942. "That's one way of showing we support ag," Hilliker said of the eligibility verification extension. "I'm just really happy that the Water Authority is showing a commitment to agriculture in San Diego."

Author Bio

Joe Naiman, Writer

Joe Naiman has been writing for the Village News since 2001


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