Special Water Rates Program Reduces Costs for San Diego County Growers
The San Diego County Water Authority and 13 of its member agencies offer growers a special agricultural water rate program: providing lower-cost water in return for lower reliability.
The Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved the Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate Program (PSAWR) in 2020. It helps support commercial farms driving the economic engine of rural San Diego County. PSAWR gives farmers a choice of what level of water service works best for their operations.
Although San Diego County’s economy is best known for tourism and biotechnology, agriculture accounts for $2 billion yearly in regional economic activity, according to the most recent county assessment.
Vallecitos Water District and PSAWR Program
Vallecitos Water District is among the PSAWR participating agencies, working with growers like Hamid Pezeshkian of Flametree Farms in Vista. Pezeschkian is among 2,000 growers enrolled.
San Diego County production is largely the combined result of more than 5,000 family farms like Pezeshkian’s operation – the most of any county in the United States. In fact, 69% of all San Diego County farms are smaller than nine acres. Innovative practices – including water-use efficiency measures – allow local farms to be productive by focusing on high-value crops.
Healthy Ecosystem Built on Conservation
Originally from Iran, Pezeshkian grows citrus, avocados, and various fruits including passion fruit, dragon fruit, and pomegranates, at his small permaculture farm with 500 trees.
“Planting a diverse range of fruit trees, plants, and cover crops as well as a variety of animals and species that coexist together allowing for a prosperous and healthy ecosystem and healthy soil,” explains Pezeshkian.
Water Conservation for Growers
Water conservation is integral to his operation and an ongoing learning process. Flametree Farms has upgraded its irrigation systems, is implementing rainwater collection systems, and aggressively uses organic compost to keep soil soft and help it retain water. When he learned about the PSAWR program through the Vallecitos Water District, Pezeshkian discovered additional options, plus a support system to help guide him through the process.
Vallecitos Water District “incredible to work with”
“The Vallecitos Water District has been incredible to work with,” said Pezeshkian. “They’re encouraging, they’re positive, and they’ve got an amazing smile when you meet them. They are always there to provide you with guidance and information when you need it.”
Pezeshkian found his best fit by qualifying as an organic producer.
“The Organic Program definitely appealed to me,” he said. “It was the taste of these oranges that made me realize that there’s something really special here in the soil. We put not a single drop of any sprays. These trees are just doing amazing, they’re producing, and I can’t wait to continue to go this path and bring healthy nutritious organic food to the community here and share it with my friends and family.”
Agriculture Among San Diego County’s Leading Industries
Agriculture directly employs 56,000 people in San Diego County, including the second-largest number of farms operated by women and the largest number of part-time farmers in the U.S. Along with avocados, San Diego County farmers rank first in the nation in the production of nursery crops, and in the top five producers nationwide of lemons, limes, guavas, pomegranates, and macadamias.
In exchange for lower priced water, participants agree to have reduced water service when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California cuts supplies to San Diego County. In turn, the Water Authority can reallocate those supplies as needed to commercial and residential customers who pay for full reliability benefits.
(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego region.)