Farmland in the Rainbow area. Photo courtesy Rainbow Municipal Water District

The water agencies in Fallbrook and Rainbow announced Thursday they will move forward with an effort to leave the San Diego County Water Authority and join the Eastern Municipal Water District in southwest Riverside County.

The two agencies say current water rates are decimating agriculture in the rural North County area and there is limited connection with the main water supply network in the rest of San Diego County.

As a result, the agencies say, Fallboook and Rainbow residents don’t benefit from expensive projects like the Carlsbad desalination plant and San Vicente dam raising that free San Diego from full reliance on the Colorado River.

“It’s just not fair to ask our ratepayers to pay for infrastructure projects they don’t benefit from,” said Jack Bebee, general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utility District.

“Annual rate increases have taken a heavy toll on our ratepayers, especially those with limited incomes, as well as our water-dependent agricultural community, which is the backbone of our economy,” he added.

Proponents of the plan say leaving the Water Authority would save the approximately 45,000 water customers in the two rural communities $7 million to $10 million annually.

However, water customers elsewhere in San Diego County would pay more, though only about 50 cents per meter, according to proponents of detachment, as the organizational process is called.

Detaching from the county Water Authority would be a two-step process. First, the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission would vote on whether the two agencies could exit the 1944 agreement. Then voters would have the final say, though whether that’s just voters in Fallbrook and Rainbow or throughout the county is in dispute.

The Water Authority voted to oppose detachment unless four conditions can be met, and has moved to reduce the cost of agricultural water throughout the county. The four conditions include protecting Fallbrook and Rainbow ratepayers, avoiding negative impacts on other water agencies, protecting the Bay-Delta and maintaining the Water Authority’s voting rights at the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District.

“We continue to support our region’s farmers through an innovative rate structure we created for them and we look forward to reviewing the consultant report being prepared for LAFCO, in hopes that it will clarify the challenges created by the Fallbrook and Rainbow proposal,” said Gary Croucher, board chair of the Water Authority.

“The challenges created by the detachment plans prompted the Water Authority’s 36-member board of directors to seek to ensure that residents of Fallbrook and Rainbow along with all residents countywide — from Oceanside to San Ysidro — have a chance to vote on any recommendation for detachment,” Croucher added.

The Fallbrook and Rainbow agencies have launched a public-education campaign and unveiled a 60-second informational video.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.