Zone 7 Water Agency Board Reviews Impact of Rate Changes on Agriculture in South Livermore Valley Plan | New


LIVERMORE – The Zone 7 Water Agency Council recently considered how tariff adjustments could impact 81 agricultural users in the South Livermore Valley plan.

Vice-chair of the board, Sarah Palmer, first raised the issue during a board discussion on Sept. 1 about what components needed to be added to the raw water bill. She referred to appeals from winemakers, who indicated that water prices have a major impact on their business costs. The South Livermore Valley Plan was created in the 1980s with the goal of securing 5,000 acres for vineyards; today 2,300 hectares are planted with vines.

“I don’t want to set a policy on something when I don’t know how much it’s really going to affect our local farming people,” Palmer said. “I oppose making a real political decision on these things without understanding these issues.”

Director Olivia Sanwong raised a similar concern, prompting Director Michelle Smith McDonald to say she wanted a better understanding of the impact on agriculture.

McDonald said he heard what Wente Family Vineyards CEO Karl Wente told the board when communicating with the public at the meeting.

“I’m not interested in raising rates significantly or making a decision that seems a bit blind at this point,” McDonald continued.

Wente, who runs the valley’s oldest winery dating back to the 19th century, told the board that it is currently essential for the continuation and expansion of the Livermore wine region.

Although olives, pistachios and even hops for beer are grown in southern Livermore, the main driver of agriculture in the valley has been the vineyards, Wente said.

Typically, the lifespan of wine vines is 20 or 30 years, so many growers now face the big question of how to replant, despite the toll taken by inflation, Wente told a reporter in an interview.

Wente said UC Davis has been studying the Livermore wine region for the past two years in a report co-sponsored by the Tri-Valley Conservancy (TVC).

In an interview with The Independent, Laura Antrim, TVC’s new CEO, said UC Davis is focusing on how Livermore Valley can be made more profitable; examining the cost of water for other northern California wineries – which compete with Livermore – will not be part of the study.

Wente said that while the UC Davis study may not directly address water costs in other regions, they are nonetheless a crucial factor in a competitive situation. He listed the benefits of the wineries’ presence, including the rock concerts they put on, wine tastings, and the overall positive economic impact on the entire valley.

Sanwong, McDonald and Palmer alluded to these benefits when they said they wanted to keep agricultural water prices as low as possible.

Raftelis, a consulting firm, carried out a cost of service study for all water agencies in 2019. Four of the seven directors were elected in 2018 or later. With staff turnover, Zone 7 General Manager Valerie Pryor wanted to see if the current board had the same ideas about the costs factored into agricultural water. The costs are divided into three categories: administration of local water rights; groundwater management and monitoring; and the general overhead of the agency, which includes the costs of labor, utilities, legal services, IT (information technology), building maintenance and related matters.

Pryor determined that she had some idea of ​​the council’s will. She told a reporter earlier this week that the consensus was not to charge agriculture for the administration of local water rights or to have to pay for the management and monitoring of groundwater.

Staff will draft a recommendation to address the agency’s overhead costs for the board’s finance committee, which will meet on September 28. The next step will be at the regular council meeting in October, when it sets water tariffs for the 2022 calendar year.

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