Opinion - Small Farmer's acted in Good Faith, now EID being asked to "Bait and Switch"
I attended EID’s June 23 Small Farm Irrigation Rate (SFIR) workshop. I planted 30 trees to qualify for the SFIR program last year, with the intention of expanding our orchard over the next three years. We understand that there are a few “bad apples” in the program that abuse it by using water in ways that do not support agriculture (ie: filling ponds, etc.), but it seems that the staff recommendation goes a long way to hurting small farmers in order to try to eliminate those who abuse the program.
We invested in our property based on EID’s SFIR program requirements and plan on joining a Co-Op so that we will have a market for our fruit when it becomes viable in the future. To pull a “bait and switch” now is just bad business ethics. One of best compromise positions that I’ve heard includes:
• Adjust the minimum number of olive trees to that required for apple trees, citrus, almonds, figs and persimmons. That is 45 trees. While 45 trees (versus 24) uses a little more water, that should be offset by the number of so-called abusers that drop out of the SFIR program due to these new requirements.
• Add a clause that SFIR program participants are not allowed to fill their lakes, ponds, creeks, streams and the like with SFIR water without prior written EID approval (i.e. some ponds are ag ponds so there needs to be pre-approval clause). These would be easily identified when the property is reviewed for small farm status by the Department of Agriculture.
• Add a clause that helps to clarify the EID’s current “marketable product” requirement such as, “Must maintain a crop that is cared for in a way to produce a commercially viable product. Should the proper maintenance and care of the required minimum agricultural crop acreage cease, as determined by the El Dorado County Agricultural Commissioner, the right to operate becomes void.” In other words, if you don’t care for your trees in a way to produce a commercial product (water, fertilize, protect, spray, let fruit rot on the ground, etc.) you won’t qualify for the SFIR program.
Adding these clauses to the current program would be fair to all those who have invested in their property to produce a crop based on the program authored by EID, and give EID the leverage to eliminate from the program those who have abused it by using the water for esthetic purposes.
I know that my family has been working to find ways to cut our water use in our daily activities. Those of us who have a livelihood at stake know the importance of good water management. One of the directors said that the motivation for the SFIR changes is to stick it to the rich folks abusing the program. Clearly, by the showing at the June 23 meeting, you will do a lot of damage to folks not in your “target” if the staff changes are approved as they currently stand.
If abuse is really your goal, you could go a long way by looking at other sectors of our community. Residential water abuse for example. Anyone with a nice-looking lawn would be a good place to start. In addition, reviewing watering schedules and sprinkler maintenance with some of our largest users (parks, commercial property landscape) has the potential to save more in water use/abuse than what you are accomplishing with the staff-proposed SFIR changes.
I understand that EID’s ultimate goal is a balance between getting water use down, while at the same time maintaining enough of a revenue stream to fund the management of the district. The staff changes will add to the bottom line in three years, but at the cost of small businesses. I urge EID’s Board of Directors to consider a compromise position like the one I’ve suggested above before placing their final votes.