Urban San Diego Growers Take Issue With California's Water-Use Reductions

By Stephen Siciliano

April 14 — Growers in northern San Diego County say a proposed framework for implementing mandatory water-use reductions treats agriculture in California's San Joaquin Valley differently from farming activities in more urban counties and is detrimental to entities that conserve.

In comments submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board on the proposed framework, the Valley Central Municipal Water District (VCMWD) said, although it is classified as an urban water agency, it represents “one of the largest commercial avocado, nursery, flower, citrus and now wine grape growing areas in California.”

VCMWD General Manager Gary Arant told Bloomberg BNA April 13 that the district serves both “domestic” customers in densely populated north San Diego County and 1,150 farm accounts. Its classification by the state as an urban water district subjects the growers within its jurisdiction to mandatory requirements, meaning they must reduce their water use by 35 percent.

The result would be “a dead landscape,” Arant said. “Right now, Valley Center is populated by dead avocado and citrus groves. We've already seen our water cut about 50 percent in the last 10 years. If we have to ask our growers to cut by another 35 percent, I'm concerned many of them will simply stop operations.”

North San Diego County agriculture represents a $1.9 billion annual industry, he said. VCMWD, however, is caught in the middle of the debate over water use in agricultural areas versus urban centers since Gov. Jerry Brown (D) ordered reductions in water use that excluded farmers.

Exempt Farmers Everywhere

In its April 10 comments, the district recommended the water board clearly exempt California agriculture from the water-use reduction mandate, “across the state, not just the Central Valley.”

Arant said the district has followed the San Diego region's move toward diversification of local sources and away from water imports. Valley Central's conservation efforts, he wrote, match up with those of “any community in the state.”

“However, the proposed framework will punish our domestic and agricultural customers with the highest level of mandatory reduction,” the district comments said.

The water board should adjust the baseline for how it calculates water-use reductions to reflect “the fact that all communities are constructed differently and have different weather characteristics, which result in inherently different water demands, irrespective of conservation efforts,” the comments said.

VCMWD recommended the State Water Board amend the proposed framework “to take into consideration the longer view of a water agency's conservation efforts and results” before imposing the mandatory reduction on “a primarily agricultural community.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Siciliano in Los Angeles at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com