Orange Cove citrus growers to see water rate hike


Their irrigation district has just quadrupled the price of their water. But even at the higher price, what the growers get will not amount to much.

There's some grumbling, but of the more than 500 growers in the Orange Cove Irrigation District, only about 50 protested the rate hike. The increase means what little water they get out of the Friant-Kern Canal here this year will be expensive and not much help.

For growers accustomed to paying about $90 an acre foot for irrigation water, the jump to nearly $400 is unsettling.

"Oh, this is very serious; looking at the livelihoods of a lot of people, the workers, plus my own livelihood," said Chris Caviglia, a citrus grower.

Grower Kirk Kuykendall says the hike will not be easy for the little guy.

"Not for smaller growers it isn't. It is for the larger guys because they're carrying a pretty good bank roll, and they have access to more credit and so on, so it's unfair in a sense that the smaller grower can't really afford it, the larger ones can," said Kuykendall.

But the price is not the big issue because there just won't be enough water available to make much of a difference.

Water District Manager Fergus Morrissey says the district will likely have only about 4,000 acre feet of water, compared to the 30,000 acre feet they average.

"It's a little over a tenth of an inch, it's about a tenth of a foot, it's about two inches. A crop needs about three feet, so two inches is not going to help anybody," said Morrissey.

The rate increase covers the operating costs of the district. The goal will be to provide what little water is available to the few growers in the district who don't have well water. But wells aren't usually enough and water on the open market is expected to sell for from $1,000 to $2,000 an acre foot.

Growers are hoping to work together; some are proposing pumping well water into the canal so those without enough can draw on it. But it's clear here, like in the rest of the Valley, there is just not enough water to go around this year.

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