San Diego County farmers warn water reduction rules will be 'devastating'

San Diego County farmers ask state water officials for same concern shown to Central Valley

A water district serving farmers in northern San Diego County has asked state water officials who are devising cutback regulations for the same exemption given to farmers in the Central Valley.

"Not All California Agriculture Is Found Between Bakersfield and Redding," Gary Arant, general manager of the Valley Center Municipal Water District, wrote to the chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, using capital letters and bold print for emphasis.

Arant was protesting the proposed regulations that would require his district to reduce water usage by 35% or face fines.

Though 79% of the district's water is delivered to farms, the district is classified as an urban district, Arant wrote, and thus in line for the kind of cuts where water usage is dominated by residential landscaping.

In his letter to Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, Arant noted that San Diego County has an agricultural economy of $1.85 billion a year. The Valley Center district is known for avocados, citrus, nursery flowers and, recently, wine grapes.

Valley Center is located 40 miles north of San Diego, serving an area of 100 square miles east of Interstate 15, with the district delivering 23,000 acre feet of water this year.

The area has 1,200 growers, "a significant contributor to San Diego County's farm economy," Arant wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who last week ordered a mandatory 25% reduction in urban and suburban water use, has shown sympathy for the farmers in the Central Valley by exempting them from the cuts.

"I talk a lot to farmers," he said during a visit Saturday to Colusa. "They're under a lot of pressure."

The state board is set to discuss the proposed cutback rules May 5 and 6, with rules to become effective June 1.

Arant's letter follows a similar protest by the San Diego County Water Authority, which acts as a water wholesaler to 24 local districts with 3.1 million people.

The county authority and Valley Center district have a similar complaint: that the proposed cutbacks only measure recent water usage in determining the mandatory percentage cuts.

A longer view of usage would show districts have been making progress in recent years in reducing water consumption, Arant and water authority Chairman Mark Weston said in their letters to state officials.

In 2003-4, the Valley Center district delivered more than 48,000 acre-feet, Arant noted, which means that in a decade water usage has dropped by more than 50%.

The state water board should "take into consideration the longer view of a water agency's conservation efforts and results prior to imposing a devastating level of mandatory 35%," Arant wrote.

Mandatory cutbacks seen as unreasonable by the public will "clog council chambers, board rooms and courts with hearings and lawsuits," Arant warned Marcus.

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