Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 5:08 am | Fair 53º


Goleta Water District Wants Avocado Farmers to ‘Stump’ Trees for Temporary Savings

The Board of Directors gives conditional approval of the Cash for Crops program, which offers rebates for agricultural customers willing to cut back

In an effort to reduce water use, the Goleta Water District ‘s Cash for Crops program will give rebates to agricultural customers willing to take permanent crops such as avocado trees out of production temporarily.
In an effort to reduce water use, the Goleta Water District ‘s Cash for Crops program will give rebates to agricultural customers willing to take permanent crops such as avocado trees out of production temporarily. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The Goleta Water District has been targeting “low hanging fruit” such as ornamental landscaping and leaks with its water use restrictions, but now it’s targeting literal fruit.

Agricultural customers use 20 percent of the district’s water, and demand has gone up since the drought was declared. They represent 1 percent of district customer accounts and used 30 percent of the district’s water sold in 2014.

The Cash for Crops program will give rebates to people willing to take permanent crops such as avocado and lemon trees out of production temporarily. It’s a short-term bid to cut down on outdoor water use and focuses on agricultural customers, unlike most conservation efforts so far.

The Board of Directors authorized the Cash for Crops program at Tuesday’s meeting, though some water board members will work out the details of contracts with farmers and benchmarks for making rebate payments.

Goleta Water District officials say their customers have low per-capita usage so it’s difficult to cut down on water demand. As of now, customers have reduced use 13 percent, which is a far cry from the 25 percent Gov. Jerry Brown is now asking for. State restrictions don't apply to agricultural use, which is estimated at 80 percent of California’s water.

In Goleta, agricultural customers have increased water use by 15 percent while residential and commercial customers cut back, assistant general manager David Matson said. Agricultural water costs about one-fifth as much as urban water customers pay per hundred cubic feet. 

Those customers told district staff that the record temperatures, lack of rain and reduced well levels all contributed to the additional water use. At Tuesday’s meeting, the district noted that 83 percent of local farmland already use efficient irrigation, such as drip systems and micro-spray.

Cash for Crops is designed to give $1,200 per acre of permanent crops taken out of production by local farmers who are water district customers, targeting avocado orchards. 

There are 4,012 farmed acres within the water district boundaries and 88 percent has permanent crops — mostly avocado trees.

District staff estimated that farms use an average of 1.5 acre-feet of water per acre, per year, and that much water would be saved by taking crops out of production. Agricultural water use in Goleta typically increases for the period of March through October, so general manager John McInnes said the district wants to start the program now.

“We need these savings as quickly as possible,” he said.

Some directors had concerns, saying there was no guarantee farmers wouldn’t cut down acres of orchard and then redirect the water to another area.

Director Rick Merrifield suggested having a “reasonable minimum” of water savings for the rebate program.

There was also some objection to giving half of the rebate money up front and the rest after confirming the stumping, and Director Bill Rosen called it “way too much, too soon.”

That’s why the board unanimously authorized the district staff to develop the program with the condition that all the related documents — including conditions to get paid and monitoring of water savings — get approved by the board’s administrative committee later this month.

The rebate of $1,200 per acre — meant to compensate for half the cost of “stumping” an acre of avocado trees — is seen as cheaper than purchasing water, according to the district. Adding mulch can also significantly cut back on water use, but not nearly as much as stumping, district staff said.

Cash for Crops is proposed to last for one-and-a-half years, about the longest amount of time stumped avocado trees can stay dormant before being put back into production, district staff said.

A fund of $520,000 for rebates is proposed, with no maximum per application and an expected water savings of 650 acre-feet. District staff said some farmers were interested in the program and some already planned to cut trees in anticipation of water surcharges.

There are rebates and incentives in place but conserving water is voluntary in Goleta so far, although there are mandatory restrictions on some outdoor water use.

The Goleta Water District plans to declare a Stage 3 drought in May, with goals of reducing water use by 35 percent and cutting back on agricultural use specifically.

The district has a special meeting scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss raising water rates, including a possible drought surcharge. It will be held at the Goleta Union School District board room at 401 N. Fairview Ave.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.