Santa Fe Irrigation to offer reduced water rate for agriculture customers

A citrus grove in Rancho Santa Fe.

On June 17, the Santa Fe Irrigation District board approved the adoption of a program that will benefit the district’s agricultural water users.

SFID will now allow eligible customers to participate in the San Diego County Water Authority’s Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate (PSAWR), a program that SFID Director Sandra Johnson said recognizes the value of agriculture by reducing water rates for growers.

The district will begin accepting applications to verify customers who are eligible on July 1.

“One of the great advantages of this pass-through program is that SFID gets reduced rates for the water ag customers use but doing so does not negatively impact other water users’ rates,” Johnson said.

A citrus grove in Rancho Santa Fe.

The water authority has been offering a temporary special agricultural water rate program since 2008. Johnson and Chuck Badger, owner of R.E. Badger Grove Management, have met with SFID General Manager Al Lau several times to request that SFID implement the program.

Teresa Penunuri, SFID public communications officer, said the district had been planning to evaluate and implement PSAWR, but Director Johnson’s advocacy and other board member support advanced the timeline by a few months.

Santa Fe Irrigation District started its own agricultural water program in 2016 based on feedback from the community—the rate for agricultural customers is $6.11 per hundred cubic feet of water and customers must meet specific requirements. As the water authority transitioned from a temporary to a permanent special agricultural rate program in 2020, SFID needed to make sure its program was aligned as well as address some customer concerns regarding its agricultural program, according to Teresa Penunuri, SFID public communications officer.

“We are very sensitive to the fact that agriculture is a very important part of our regional economy. We are the 19th largest farm economy in the nation and there are almost 6,000 farms in San Diego County,” Penunuri said. “We definitely want to be responsive to that. They are an important part of our customer base as all our customers are.”

The PSWAR is a pass-through rate that SFID facilitates and the water authority defines what criteria needs to be met to qualify as agricultural customers. Aligning SFID’s program with the PSWAR
eliminates SFID’s requirements for sub-metering and the criteria that property owners have to sell at least $1,000 in agriculture products to be identified as an ag customer.

With the board’s approval, SFID can now start doing outreach to potential participants on what their options are: customers must choose to participate in SFID’s agricultural water program or the PSWAR program. Penunuri said she wanted to make it clear that PSWAR’s lower rate is in exchange for reduced reliability—farmers who participate receive a lower level of water service during water shortages or emergencies. Lau said SFID agricultural customers receive local water benefits and the district may be slightly more resilient due to the local water condition.

While they were supportive of the program, SFID Director Dana Freihauf and Chair Michael Hogan had some concerns about the additional administrative costs of the implementation and how it might impact customers.

Johnson, a Rancho Santa Fe grove owner, was excited about the opportunity the program provided to agricultural customers. She said SFID’s agriculture program benefits the larger grove owners and for many smaller grove owners like herself, the agricultural rate costs much more money than going on the residential program—the requirement of a sub-meter and the extra fee made many choose not to participate.

“The PSWAR helps growers of all different sizes and there are many of us, I think it’s another great option,” Johnson said. “I believe the PSAWR is one of the few ways ag customers can reduce water costs. I hope that the agricultural owners will consider participation in this opportunity.”

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