Singing the Goleta drought blues

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Each week we meet up with Katie Hershfelt of Cultivate Events as she chats with farmers, chefs and shoppers at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market.

This week, she spoke with Jack Motter, who started Ellwood Canyon Farms in Goleta in 2009. The drought has hit his farm hard, and the recent decision by the Goleta Water District to raise agricultural water rates has left Motter questioning the future of farming in Goleta.

They met up on a rainy day at the market. “We enjoy this time of year,” said Motter. “The drought has been real rough. We had a hot fall on the tail end of  a drought. We’re still kicking in farming, but if we don’t get a lot more rain than we’ve already had, it’s going to be a tough situation for farming in Goleta.”


Three of the four properties Motter farms depend on City of Goleta agricultural water. He has stopped planting on all of those.

“We couldn’t afford to farm at that rate,” he said. According to Motter, his water bills at those three properties have gone up by 300%. His fourth property is in better shape. It gets water from a well, and he’s hoping to install another well soon.

“I think it’s very unfair the way that they increased the rates so drastically and chose to put more of the increase on ag rates rather than city water rates,” he said.

Farmers in Goleta, mainly those who run orchards that demand a lot of water to thrive, have sued the Goleta Water District, contending it raised rates without providing documentation proving the increase corresponds to actual costs of delivering water.

Capture3Meanwhile, Motter plans to focus on planting and harvesting less water-intensive crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash.

Consumers won’t feel the weight of Goleta’s water problem, Motter said, because most farms can’t raise produce prices beyond what’s competitive in the larger marketplace.

“It hurts the business a lot,” he said. “If we continue in a drought, I don’t see much potential for farming in Goleta.”

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