Water companies in England and Wales have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus crisis.
The Imperial Irrigation District board of directors voted this week to approve an option to sell 2,880 acres near Niland and Calipatria to a Moreno Valley-based developer for the construction of an “inland port.”
The board postponed action on the deal in December and called for more information and new terms, which IID staff presented before Tuesday’s vote. By a 4-1 vote, the board approved the amended deal, with President Norma Sierra Galindo as the lone vote in opposition.
California’s ambitious renewable energy targets helped drive a substantial drop in greenhouse gas pollution that propelled the state past its 2020 climate change goals early, according to a non-partisan analysis released this week. Yet one California lawmaker confirmed Tuesday he wants to put a stop to the mandate, for now.
Most of the carbon pollution that California scrubbed from its economy over the past ten years disappeared from the state’s electricity sector.
The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Nov. 21 approved a new and permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate program structure that offers lower water rates to farmers in exchange for lower water supply reliability.
Unlike the current temporary program, the structure of the new water rate program will let new participants join as a way to strengthen the region’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry.
New ag water program rates will be determined in the spring of 2020 as part of the Water Authority’s annual rate-setting process. The program will take effect January 1, 2021, replacing the current program that sunsets at the end of 2020. Additional program details, such as the signup process and qualifying criteria, also will be developed early next year.
Special water rate program supports regional farm economy
Farmers and growers who participate in the new program will continue to receive a lower level of water service during water shortages or emergencies, allowing the Water Authority to reallocate those supplies to commercial and industrial customers, who pay for full reliability benefits. In exchange, participating farmers are exempt from fixed water storage and supply reliability charges. Under the current temporary program in 2020, participants will pay $1,231 per acre-foot for treated water, while municipal and industrial users will pay $1,686 per acre-foot.
“Creating a permanent program will benefit all regional water users,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “It helps farmers sustain their operations – and thousands of jobs – while providing a benefit to residential and commercial water customers in the event of future water supply reductions.”
San Diego County leads nation in production of nursery crops and avocados
“Every farmer in the county supports the special rate,” said Hannah Gbeh, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “The agriculture community stands ready to provide significant water cutbacks in times of need, such as drought or emergency repairs.”
San Diego County is unusual among major metropolitan areas in the United States because it includes one of the nation’s most valuable and productive farm sectors adjacent to one of the nation’s largest cities.The region sustains 3.3 million people and a $231 billion economy thanks to decades of regional investments in water supply reliability projects, including the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant and the biggest conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history.
Input from growers and farmers for agricultural water rate program
The Water Authority has provided lower-cost water to growers in exchange for lower reliability since October 2008, when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California phased out a similar program. Since that time, the temporary Water Authority program has continued with a series of extensions set to expire at the end of 2020.
The new program was developed by the Water Authority’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force, which is assessing a variety of issues to ensure the agency’s long-term financial health. Regional farming leaders provided input to the task force on the parameters of the new program.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors last week approved a new and permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate structure that offers lower water rates to farmers in exchange for lower water supply reliability.
As the nation’s “Capital of Craft,” San Diego County is home to more than 150 breweries that boast nearly 6,500 local jobs. In 2018, the regional craft beer industry produced $1.2 billion in economic impact, according to a report by California State University San Marcos and the San Diego Brewers Guild.
California has more operational craft breweries than any other state in the country. As of January 2019, 155 independent craft brewers were operating in San Diego County.
The regional economic benefits generated by the industry would not be possible without the safe and reliable water supply that the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies deliver to the region every day.
Craft Beer Con highlights importance of water efficiency
As part of an ongoing partnership with the Brewers Guild, the Water Authority sponsored the 2019 Craft Beer Con industry event at CSU San Marcos. Dozens of industry professionals attended the event to network and see the release of the new economic findings.
In addition to the $1.2 billion in economic impact in 2018, the report showed that San Diego brewers produced 1.13 million barrels in 2018. The industry also had a philanthropic impact, donating an estimated $5 million to regional nonprofits. Overall, the industry’s economic impact grew 6% since 2017.
“Beer can be 90-95% water,” said Jeff Stephenson, a principal water resources specialist at the Water Authority. “Water is essential to every step of the process, not only for the final product, but for cooling, packaging and cleaning.”
Stephenson was part of an expert panel at Craft Beer Con, discussing water-use efficiency in brewing, the continued partnership between water agencies and the region’s growing craft beer industry.
Regional investments in a clean and reliable water supply
Regional investments in water infrastructure have paved the way to ensuring a safe and reliable water supply that can sustain industries like the craft beer industry and fuel San Diego County’s $231 billion economy.
Water-use efficiency technology and equipment have also helped brewers streamline production and reduce their water costs while producing high quality products.
The craft brewing industry and those who work closely with it have a positive outlook.
In a survey that CSU San Marcos conducts each year, participants showed high confidence in the industry, with interests in increasing hiring and investments and confidence that production and distribution volume will continue to grow.
A flood of water industry professionals nearing retirement has prompted local agencies to form a task force charged with assessing ways to develop the water workforce of the future. Education leaders are stepping up outreach to fill their career training programs, and water agencies are looking for new ways to attract employees.
“For many years now, we’ve been talking about the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of aging baby boomers who are going to be leaving the workforce, but it really is coming to fruition now,” said Don Jones, who helped spearhead Cuyamaca College’s new Center for Water Studies housing the college’s Water & Wastewater Technology program. “Almost one-third of water industry professionals will be at or nearing retirement age in the next few years. When you combine that with the fact that the unemployment rate is already at record or near-record lows and other industries are facing the same challenges and going after the same people we are, we have some serious work to do.”
Those concerns have spurred the San Diego County Water Authority and other agencies to convene a regional task force comprising utility directors and general managers, which has been meeting for months to assess workforce-related challenges, collect and analyze employment data, and craft a plan for moving forward.
Water industry offers competitive salaries
The regional water and wastewater industry expects to need to fill approximately 400 positions annually to keep pace with retirements and vacancies caused by employees leaving the area.
The challenges face both large and small agencies. In the City of San Diego, 640 of approximately 1,600 water industry professionals will be eligible to retire within the next three to four years. At the Fallbrook Public Utility District approximately 40 percent of the agency’s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement.
“These are good-paying jobs with good benefits, but you just don’t find a lot of people coming out of school who are interested, and we are struggling to attract skilled employees from the private sector,” said Jack Bebee, Fallbrook general manager.
Bebee pointed to the recent posting of a senior engineering position at the utility that pays an annual salary of close to $150,000. The district thought the salary would be competitive enough to draw people from the private sector, but only one of four applicants was from the private sector. When Bebee was hired for a similar position nine years ago, he competed against 40 other applicants.
A 2018 Brookings Institution report notes the employment void exists even though water workforce occupations not only pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally, but also pay up to 50 percent more to workers at the lower ends of the income scale. In San Diego County, water and wastewater plant and systems operators are earning an average salary of $70,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Skilled workers needed to operate increasingly complex systems
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that fewer people may be needed in coming years as water and wastewater plants become more automated, a skilled workforce is required to operate increasingly complex controls and systems. Some of the most advanced facilities in the world are in Southern California, including the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the naton’s largest desalination plant.
Local educational efforts in the industry are addressing the potential worker shortage:
- Palomar College’s Water and Wastewater Technology programs, provides pre-employment training and advanced courses for people who want to become certified as a water or wastewater operator.
- The Water Authority’s student internship program pays $12 an hour and has interns working at four different water agencies throughout the year.
- California State University, San Marcos Certificate in Water Management & Leadership program is geared toward workers already employed as intermediate-level supervisors in the water industry and offers training and skills needed for higher management positions.
- The Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College.
The Brookings report noted the glut of retirements offers an opportunity to diversify the industry. In January, the Center for Water Studies held the first in an annual series of Women in Water symposiums, attracting several hundred women and high school girls from throughout Southern California interested in a new career.
“Challenges can prompt people to get together and look at new ways of doing things,” said Greg Thomas, general manager at the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District in Escondido. “This is a great industry, it pays well, and you’re doing something good for people and society.”
The San Diego County Water Authority is hosting a social media photo contest during Water Awareness Month in May to celebrate how safe and reliable water supplies fuel the region’s local farms and food production.
The “San Diego Grown Photo Contest” on Instagram and Twitter highlights the significance of agriculture to the regional economy. As one of the nation’s top producers of avocados, ornamental trees and shrubs, flowers, succulents, lemons, and other agricultural products, San Diego County’s farms generate nearly $4.8 billion in total annual economic activity on some 250,000 acres.
The contest is part of the Water Authority’s ongoing Brought to You by Water outreach and education program, designed to convey the importance water supply reliability for sustaining the region’s 3.3 million people and its $231 billion economy. The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies work together to meet current and future water demands, while promoting water-use efficiency.
“Safe and reliable water supplies help more than 5,500 farms to thrive in our region – not to mention countless backyard gardens, community gardens and farmers markets,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “This photo contest offers everyone a chance to showcase their favorite locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and nursery plants, and to win some great prizes donated by sponsors who share our commitment to our region’s most precious natural resource.”
Agriculture: brought to you by water
The Water Authority is coordinating with the nonprofit local chapter of the Farm Bureau, which is supported solely by more than 2,000 dues-paying members. Established in 1914, it serves the needs of the San Diego agriculture community through a variety of advocacy and education initiatives.
“Farming is a foundational piece of our regional economy and quality of life – but it doesn’t happen without a reliable water supply,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “Our farmers are constantly innovating to use water more efficiently through adopting new technology and more-efficient crops.”
Reliable water supply helps drive regional economy
Entering the photo contest is easy: Take a photo of your favorite locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers or nursery plants and post the photo to Instagram or Twitter using #B2UbyH2O between May 1-31. Participants must be at least 18 years old to enter.
Qualifying submissions are eligible for prizes generously donated by local businesses and organizations including Specialty Produce, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and Jimbo’s …Naturally! Winners will be drawn randomly each week from posts that meet contest rules here, and they will be announced on social media.
Over the past year, the Water Authority has highlighted an array of the region’s core industries – including tourism, manufacturing and brewing – that would not exist without substantial investments in water supply reliability by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.