Avocado commission helps growers face water crisis - The Packer

Avocado commission helps growers face water crisis

03/28/2014 10:18:00 AM
Tom Burfield

With California is in a state of drought emergency, the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission has been involved in a lengthy discussion with the Metropolitan Water District, the major water wholesaler for Southern California, where a large number of avocado growers are based, said Ken Melban, director of issues management for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

The commission is trying to persuade the water district to recognize the value that agriculture has as a purchaser of water by providing, for example, fixed revenues and stable customers.

“But it’s tough,” Melban said, and the drought has only made things tougher.

The water district gets its water from the state water project and from the Colorado River, both of which are under continuous strain, he said, from supply and demand standpoints.

“There are more and more people drawing water off of the Colorado River,” he said.

Price is a major concern.

Southern California is “the end of the spigot,” Melban said.

It’s expensive to move water from the northern part of the state to the south.

Water in the southernmost growing region can cost up to $1,300 per acre-foot, compared to about $70 per acre foot for reclaimed water in the Central Valley, he said.

“My growers would kill for that (price),” Melban said.

Water is available because the Metropolitan Water District has done a good job of increasing storage capacity over the past two decades, he said, and growers usually receive a fair amount of rainfall at this time of year to complement irrigation water purchases.

This year, with few exceptions, that wasn’t happening.

“It just means more costs to growers,” Melban said.

Different problems exist in Northern California, like in San Luis Obispo County, where growers source water from their own wells, which are running low.

The commission hopes to “improve understanding from all perspectives by generating a relationship and having discussions to see if something can be developed that works for the water agencies and for the growers,” Melban said.

An agriculture impact study by the University of California-Davis determined that Southern California agriculture is a $40 billion industry — including direct and indirect jobs — in the water district service area, he said.

The commission is continuing a dialog with water district staff and board members and is talking with potentially affected people like community members and decision makers to raise awareness, he said.

“You can’t just go to a water agency and ask them to give you a handout,” Melban said.

“The challenge is to establish the value that agriculture provides, and (ensure) that we are only charged for services that we benefit from.”



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