Water Authority: Money Available to Help Low-Income Residents with Bill

Low-income residents may still access millions of dollars in federal assistance to help pay overdue residential water and wastewater bills, the San Diego County Water Authority announced Friday.

Assistance Available for Residents Who Need to Keep the Water On

Californians who need help paying their water bills can benefit from a state-administered program.

The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, which is administered by the state Department of Community Service and Development, is available to both renters and homeowners.

San Diego Warns Residents of Fraudulent ‘Water Update’ Notices, Likely Scam

San Diego Friday warned residents to be on the lookout for fake “water update” notice at their homes that appear to be from a private company with no association with the city.

Residents contacted by the company are urged not to agree to services and not to provide personal information.

Need Help Paying Your Water and Sewer Bill? California Extended This Assistance Program

The California Department of Community Services and Development is extending its program to help low-income residents pay their current or past-due water and sewer bills. The federally funded Low Income Household Water Assistance Program was originally set to end in the fall, but will remain open through March 2024 — or until funds last.


Escondido Prepares for Proposed Water Rate Hikes

One week away from the city of Escondido voting on a potential double-digit water rate increase, council members received a presentation about the rate increase already decided on by San Diego County Water Authority.

“The board ultimately chose to go with a smoothing approach for the rate increases with an effective rate increase of 9.5% for calendar year 2024,” said Tish Berge, deputy general manager for SDCWA.

Berge explained the smoothing approach meant projected future increases wouldn’t be as steep. The county water authority cites several similar factors as the city for needing to raise the rate like inflation and maintaining infrastructure, but they also say they’ve lost money as a result of more frequent rainfall.

Sweetwater Mulls Increase

On Sept. 17, the Sweetwater Authority Governing Board accepted the 2023 rate study, which proposes a water rate structure for the following three years, determining the cost of providing water service and revenue required to maintain current water service levels.

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WaterSmart Moves Pay Off for Fallbrook Avocado Farm

Josh Kane didn’t know a lot about avocado farming 10 years ago, but he does now.

In 2001, Kane’s mother bought a 60-acre avocado farm, the Rice Canyon Ranch, in Fallbrook, thinking it would be a good investment. But, some not-so-good advice, and the 2014 drought, had the business in a nosedive.

So, Kane quit his job in commercial real estate and stepped in to help his mom turn the farm around, or “they would have lost the investment,” said Kane.

During that time, the Fallbrook area had been a hub for agriculture, specifically avocados. But many farms ceased operating due to a complex suite of factors that include increasing water and labor costs, competition from imports, and climate volatility.

Rice Canyon took a long-term investment perspective and invested in innovative measures, including tree stumping and grafting. Those strategies, along with smart irrigation, helped turn the farm around. But challenges remain.

Award-winning water-use efficiency

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Water Savings Incentive Program, or WSIP, helped Kane to increase water-use efficiency at the farm. Rice Canyon Ranch and Kane were recognized with an award. He was one of six honorees selected based on their remarkable water-saving projects and facility upgrades funded by the WSIP.

Each unique project was recognized in a May 2023 ceremony for its technological innovations, environmental stewardship and water sustainability.

Metropolitan’s One Water Awards ceremony at the California Endowment in Los Angeles honored organizations that used funding from the WSIP to make major improvements to their water management operations and equipment, such as installing smart irrigation technology, water recirculation systems and soil moisture sensors.

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The Rice Canyon Ranch avocado farm. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Long-term sustainable change

“The transformation of daily operations for these organizations translates into long-term, sustainable change for entire communities,” said Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “The ceremony demonstrated that when everyone does what they can to use less water, we produce real water savings that benefits millions.”

Named for Metropolitan’s approach to water management that values and acknowledges that all water resources are connected, the One Water Awards program amplifies the success of participants in its WSIP. The program provides funding to commercial, industrial, institutional and agricultural customers that make water efficiency upgrades to their facilities but may not qualify for Metropolitan’s standard commercial rebate programs. It pays up to $0.60 per 1,000 gallons of water saved annually through customized projects that are developed by each organization to fit its needs.

“Outside of the box” strategies for avocado farm

The WSIP program and incentives were critical to implementing Rice Canyon’s strategies and have helped significantly reduce costs.

Rice Canyon replaced existing, or old trees, with “high-density planting.” How did removing old trees and high-density planting save water and money?

Kane says Haas avocado trees reach up to “40 feet and out 50 feet, it’s a massive tree and older trees would climb higher and higher in the old way of growing.”

Instead of planting trees like the typical spacing for avocado farms in the past, the new trees were planted on 10 feet by 10 feet spacing. Kane says that change to smaller spacing allowed reduced water usage, reduced loss due to deep percolation, inhibited weed growth, and excessive evaporation loss through overgrown canopies. Plant “material changes” meant using mulch to save water.

“Avocado roots are only about six inches deep, so they require a lot of water,” Kane explained. “But adding a layer of mulch keeps the roots wet, reducing irrigation and saving water.”

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The 60-acre Rice Canyon Ranch avocado farm is supplied with water from the San Diego County Water Authority and the Rainbow Municipal Water District, one of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Tree spacing to save water

“With the fruits on the canopy – and all the water needed to pull the water up to the canopy – a 9-foot-tall tree, cutting and pruning it back, is more efficient with the sun, space and way more efficient with the water,” said Kane.

Kane says before the changes in tree spacing, use of mulch, and smart irrigation, the water costs for the avocado farm were about $250,000 a year.

“Our water costs are about $62,000 a year now, a cut of roughly 75-percent, which is huge,” Kane said.

He said the farm received $238,000 from the WSIP program for the water-efficiency project and the operation now saves about 34-38 million gallons of water a year. Kane says the 10-year projected water savings is 350 million gallons.

Even with the grant, and all the changes to the farm – including smart irrigation techniques, Kane says competition from outside the U.S. is a big factor in making a profit.

“We’re giving it a go and trying, but the price per pound – with competition from a lot of overseas fruit, from Mexico, Argentina, Peru – is a key factor for us,” said Kane.

WaterSmart advice for growers

“Farming is not easy by any means,” said Kane. “The price we get for our avocados is about the same per pound today as we got 10 years ago. There are no guarantees, but the way we had to make it work was to reduce water expenses as much as we could.”

Kane has this advice to remain profitable for other growers of avocados or similar crops for smart irrigation.

“You have to think outside the box to make it, decrease expenses and increase profits – never stop learning,” said Kane. “Any old time farmer growing avocados the same way as 40 years ago, must change and adapt with the times.”

He says despite the water cost savings, use of water sensors and other changes, growing avocados for Rice Canyon is a tough business.

“It is a labor of love, not a business of income, but the water grant gets us closer to making it work,” said Kane.

(Editor’s Note: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a water wholesaler. Since 1990, Metropolitan has invested nearly $1 billion in conservation programs, saving about 3.5 million acre-feet of water. Rice Canyon Ranch is supplied with water from the San Diego County Water Authority and the Rainbow Municipal Water District, one of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.)

Napa Proposes Hike in Monthly Water Rates to Help Offset Rising Operational Costs

The city of Napa is set to consider an increase to water rates for the first time in two years to cover the increasing costs of providing service.

The Napa City Council will hold a hearing Nov. 7 to adopt the new rates. If approved, they would be effective Jan. 1 and customers likely would see the impact on bills in March and April, said Joy Eldredge, deputy city utilities director.

Environment Report: We’re Diving Into the Western Water Wars

In two years, almost every major agreement currently keeping battle swords sheathed on the Colorado River will expire. Seven western states and Mexico will have to wrestle with the fact that there’s less water for their people and industries than before. And they have until 2026 to get new agreements to use much, much less water in place.

Water Rates Could Climb 12% in Two Years for Oceanside

Oceanside’s water rates could climb 6 percent in 2024 and another 6 percent in 2025 under a proposal outlined this week by the city’s water utilities director.

The increases are the result of rate hikes by the Metropolitan Water District, Southern California’s biggest water wholesaler, and the San Diego County Water Authority, which buys water from Metropolitan and sells it to local agencies.

“We are directly passing through those rates,” Oceanside Water Utilities Director Lindsay Leahy said Tuesday in a presentation to the city’s Water Utilities Commission. The proposal is scheduled to go to the Oceanside City Council for approval Nov. 15.