Today the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors approved extending a temporary agricultural water rate program through January 1, 2015. The action provides the region’s agriculture industry with a measure of economic relief while providing urban water customers increased protection from water shortages.
Growers and farmers who participate in the program, called the Transitional Special Agricultural Water Rate program, receive a lower level of water service during water shortages or emergencies. In exchange, they are exempt from paying storage and other charges from the Water Authority that help fund programs that provide greater water supply reliability during shortages or emergencies.
“Continuing this program will benefit our entire region,” Water Authority Board Chair Michael T. Hogan said. “The agricultural community, which is an important component of our region’s economy, will get two more years to adapt to rising water costs and establish policies and programs to help sustain regional agricultural operations. Meanwhile, residential and commercial water users benefit from agricultural water customers agreeing to take greater cutbacks if water shortage conditions return to our region in 2013 or 2014.”
The temporary program, approved by the Board in March 2010, was originally scheduled to run through the end of December 2012. Program participants this year receive a cost benefit of $212 per acre-foot.
The Water Authority planned to start a revised Special Agricultural Water Rate program in January 2013 in which farmers and growers would still be exempt from paying storage charges, but otherwise would pay the same Water Authority costs as urban water customers.
Water Authority staff estimates it will cost $4.7 million to continue the transitional program in 2013.
Last month, leaders from the region’s agriculture industry, along with several Water Authority Board members who represent retail agencies with large agricultural water use, requested the Board consider extending the transitional program. They asked to give farmers and growers more time to adjust to rising water rates, which they said threatens the long-term viability of agriculture in San Diego County.
Hogan said it also makes sense to continue the transitional agricultural water rate program while the Water Authority’s legal challenge to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s water rate structure proceeds through the courts. (For more information on the legal challenge, visit www.sdcwa.org/mwdrate-challenge.)
“If we prevail in our rate case against MWD, it will provide some rate relief for both our urban and our agricultural customers,” Hogan said. “It doesn’t make sense to make an important regional industry experience a significant rate increase a few months from now – one that could put some of its members out of business – when we have a strong chance of winning our case and being able to adjust our rates downward a year or so later.”