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Regulations will set standards for measuring water

Issue Date: June 22, 2011
By Kate Campbell

At a meeting in Sacramento last week, the California Water Commission recommended that the state Department of Water Resources adopt agricultural water measurement regulations that would require accurate measurement devices on nearly all irrigation laterals and turnouts in the state—estimated at more than 115,000 gates.

Developed under SBx7-7 as part of the comprehensive water legislation of 2009, the proposed regulations would set volume accuracy requirements for delivered water at between 5 percent and 12 percent, with a deadline for water suppliers to begin measuring volumes delivered to farm and ranch customers by July 31, 2012.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, along with farm water advocates, irrigation districts and engineering experts, have been working on developing the new regulations for more than a year. The full process for formal adoption of the new regulations will take a couple of months.

"Working on these regulations has been challenging," said Danny Merkley, CFBF water resources director. "Many good questions and issues were raised during development, but much of it was redundant for those of us who worked on the legislation in 2009."

Because Farm Bureau was at the table in 2009 and helped negotiate improvements in the legislation, Merkley said many of the interests and concerns of agriculture are reflected in the new regulatory proposal.

At a water commission meeting that preceded last week's vote, DWR representatives suggested that certified volume measurement devices to meet accuracy requirements could cost $6,500 each and $1,200 a year for monitoring, repair and reporting.

"We don't know how many turnouts are going to require upgrading at a cost of $6,500 each or more," said Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition. "It's impossible to know that until districts begin assessing their infrastructure to see what level of accuracy they're able to attain with current measurement."

Wade submitted estimates of the statewide costs at about $29 million in the first year, for installation of devices that would bring about 19,000 water delivery gates to the required level. Total cost during the next 20 years for upgrading, replacing and maintaining equipment with the 6 percent to 12 percent proposed accuracy standard could total about $579 million, he said. Those figures were based on 2003 estimates from the CalFed Bay-Delta Program about the number of turnouts that may not meet the accurary standard.

Using DWR estimates of gates that will need new devices installed, the capital costs go from about $96 million to about $104 million.

"It could be the 19,000-gate figure from CalFed is accurate," he said. "It could be less. It could be more. The message is there's a lot of work that has to be done by agriculture to meet the measurement standard required by SBx7-7."

Wade noted that the July 31, 2012, deadline does not mean that every gate must meet the currently recommended 5, 10 or 12 percent standard, "but it does mean water suppliers will need a plan in place for how they're going to do it."

Phase-in of the volume measuring requirements has not yet been decided. It could be three years, as DWR has proposed, or it may vary depending on water district circumstances.

The 2009 legislation requires that DWR adopt regulations that provide for a range of options that agricultural water suppliers may use to comply with the measurement requirement. It also mandates adoption by water districts of a pricing structure for water customers based, at least in part, on quantity delivered.

The legislation also calls on water districts to implement additional efficient-management practices. And, effective 2013, agricultural water suppliers that do not meet the water management planning requirements established by the bill will not be eligible for state water grants or loans.

Those entities not required to meet the new volume measurement regulations include agricultural water suppliers that provide water to less than 25,000 irrigated acres—10,000 to 25,000 acres if state funding assistance is not provided—that supply wildlife refuges or that provide recycled water. Canal authorities that merely convey water also will be exempt from the volume measuring requirements.

"If these regulations are adopted as we see them now, it's fair to say there will be some flexibility and the measurement standards have been reviewed by universities," Wade said.

But he said many California farmers "can expect some long-term cost increases because of the added monitoring and reporting" required of water districts.

In remarks to the water commission, Bob Reeb, executive director of the Valley Ag Water Coalition, which represents about 40 agricultural water agencies in the San Joaquin Valley, said implementation of the new measurement requirements must be adaptive and account for changes in technology and economics, and allow for local flexibility.

Thad Bettner, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District general manager, told the commission that trying to calibrate a device to measure volume is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

Last year, the district used 600,000 acre-feet of water, he said, "and I can tell you exactly what ran through our headgate, our laterals, where our losses were, where every drop of water went. I can tell you exactly what went onto the fields. If I have to spend time trying to get private landowners to figure out their water use, it will take three to five years to implement volumetric pricing."

Speaking on behalf of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Mario Santoyo, Friant Water Authority assistant general manager, said federal water contractors began reporting individual water deliveries in 1982 and a 6 percent meter accuracy requirement was added in 1992.

"The federal government has been requiring measurement for a long time," Santoyo said. "For our purposes of this state proposal, we'd like to ensure there isn't any vagueness that could result in litigation or arguments down the road."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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