Local growers will receive $40,000 in refund checks from the Woodbridge Irrigation District for conserving water. The district issued the checks as part of their 2011 flood and furrow metering program.
District manager Andy Christensen said between 40 and 50 customers can expect checks in their mailboxes within a few days. Some will receive as little as $50, while one large grower can look forward to a return of about $9,000. But most checks were between $500 and $600.
"It rewards growers for conserving," he said. "It provides an opportunity for growers to make their own decisions."
The district has metered water use for grapes and row crops for eight years, but 2011 was the first year in which all district water use was metered. That means more than 400 customers are now able to watch their water use tick upward like the meter at the gas station.
Seeing the actual cost instead of paying a flat rate can inspire conservation, said Christensen.
The system works because it doesn't force growers to conserve or meet any quotas, said Christensen. Instead, it leaves the decision up to the individual, and rewards based on participation.
Some crops are better than others for surviving on little water. Grapes are a good example, as well as olives. The problem is that during a dry year, like 2012 is shaping up to be, growers can't simply switch to a new crop. If they've planted trees or vines, it's a major undertaking to start fresh.
Christensen was pleased to see such good cooperation.
"It's a winning result for everyone," he said. "They get money back and we are able to save some water."
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