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Growers to pay more for irrigation

POSTED March 2, 2012 10:42 p.m.

New state regulations will force many growers in the Turlock Irrigation District service area to pay more for water next year, customers learned at preseason growers meetings this week.

A series of measures, approved by the California legislature as part of a comprehensive water package in 2009, will require TID to bill irrigation customers for each acre-inch of water used and force growers to install flow measurement equipment.

“None of it's really good news, unfortunately,” said Debbie Liebersbach, water planning department Manager.

Currently, TID irrigation customers pay a flat fee for an allotment of irrigation water, regardless of whether they use half of the allotted water of all of the allotment. According to Liebersbach, in standard years, when an allotment is 48 inches of water per acre, most growers do not use the total amount.

But the new legislation requires TID to bill customers only for the water they receive. That would likely force the district to raise per-inch water rates, as all customers would no longer pay for the full allotment.

“We're likely looking at a rate adjustment to help bring revenues in line with some of the costs associated with delivering water,” Liebersbach said.

A shift to the state-mandated volumetric billing model will likely make irrigation less expensive for drip irrigators, while raising rates for flood irrigators.

“Those who use less will probably pay a little less,” said Bob Nees, TID assistant general manager of water resources and regulatory affairs. “Those who use more will probably pay a little more. I think in the end it will pencil out.”

Liebersbach said to expect details on the rate adjustment in the coming weeks, as TID is required to adopt the new rate structure by July, with the new costs going into effect in 2013.

Growers will face an additional one-time cost before 2015, as legislation requires the installation of a water flow measuring vent on each canal sidegate or irrigation pipeline. The exact improvements required will vary from grower to grower, TID said, as some irrigation pipelines already have measuring vents that meet the new standards.

With such a vent, the district can verify the amount of water delivered to consumers using portable measurement equipment. Several measurements will be made throughout the system each day, allowing the district to calibrate delivery levels, ensuring growers get the water they pay for.

The costs of installing the vents will be borne by growers or improvement districts. Growers may choose to install the vents themselves, pay a contractor, or hire TID.

“I see the dollar signs going up,” said Hughson kiwi and almond grower Andy Anderson of the rate changes and measurement equipment. “This is going to be very expensive. … Good old California.”

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