Metropolitan Board Approves Terms for Fallowing Program with Bard Water District

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (“Metropolitan”) Board of Directors has approved terms for a two-year fallowing program with Bard Water District (“Bard”) that will provide the district with a secure supply of water from the Colorado River.

Many of the irrigators in Bard grow year-round; focusing on high-value, lower water use vegetable crops in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer, they tend to grow higher water use, lower value grains and grasses. Under the fallowing program, irrigators would idle their land in the spring and summer (April 1–July 31) and transfer the water to Metropolitan. Qualifying parcels must be at least 10 continuous acres and have been farmed in the spring and summer 2014 and 2015.

Irrigators would idle up to 2,000 acres per year, providing up to 4,570 AF per year. Metropolitan will pay $400 per acre idled—which, with an estimated yield of 2.3 AF/acre, represents a cost of about $175/AF for the water, paid to the participating farmers, plus $22/AF for Bard’s development and administrative costs.

Bard, along with the Quechan Indian Tribe, makes up the Reservation Division of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Yuma Project—which has Priority 2 Colorado River water rights.  Metropolitan’s 550,000 AF of Colorado River water rights have Priorities 4, 5 and 6(a) and can be reduced if the volume used by Palo Verde Irrigation District, which holds Priorities 1 and 3(b), and the Yuma Division exceeds 420,000 AF. As a result, the opportunity to acquire Priority 2 water supplies increases the certainty of Metropolitan’s Colorado River water supplies.

The deal is being praised for its innovation in meeting the need for certainty as supplies are becoming more uncertain.

“With a projected future imbalance between supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin, it will take new partnerships and new solutions now and in the years ahead,” said Metropolitan board Chairman Randy Record. “This pilot program exemplifies Metropolitan’s commitment to find new, workable ways to maintain agriculture and provide reliable water supplies to the Southland’s urban economy.”

During the two-year pilot, Bard and Metropolitan will evaluate the water savings from fallowing and the availability of water to Metropolitan, determine initial and ongoing interest among the farmers, and explore the possibility of a long-term program.

Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger highlighted the mutual benefits of providing a reliable water supply to Metropolitan and stable income to Bard’s farmers.

“This program offers mutual benefits that advance a new way to maximize the value and use of water for farmers and cities alike,” Kightlinger said. “It shows the potential of providing Metropolitan with a highly flexible and reliable water supply at an affordable cost that significantly augments our portfolio of short- and long-term water supplies for the region.”

“At the same time, payments to Bard farmers could help them better manage fluctuations in the crop market by offering a stable income and providing needed capital to help fund local water system improvements and offset future rate increases,” he added.


Written by Marta L. Weismann