In a five-hour session yesterday, Tuolumne Utilities District directors hashed out controversial issues like growth, agriculture and conservation that have hounded the board for years, but have never been resolved.

While directors took no action yesterday, they said the forum was productive and gave them important background information on serving new housing projects, selling more water for agriculture and inspiring conservation among district customers.

Directors talked at length about the district's growth rate, and how to calculate how much water can be given to new customers.

Director Ralph Retherford said he thinks the district is counting on more population growth than would actually occur. But other directors said they'd rather be safe than sorry.

"The one thing you don't want to do is assume you're going to grow less than you end up growing," said board President Louise Giersch.

Director Gary Walter agreed, noting that El Dorado County grew too fast, over-allocated and then ran out of water.

When it comes to agriculture, though, Walter and Retherford who often clash in meetings agreed that the board should give growers a break.

Retherford said promoting agriculture would "help preserve rural character," encourage large lot owners to invest in crops and discourage them from subdividing.

Helping growers for example, by selling cheap water while they get started, with the balance to be repaid after harvest would help the foothills in many ways, Walter agreed.

"It's industry, it's ag, it's tourism it's a real win for the county," Walter said.

Directors also agreed that water conservation should be a higher priority for the district, although the water savings it would bring are not as dramatic as directors expected.

Armed with his calculator, Retherford figured that the 66 acre feet saved each year by 200 customers using low-flow toilets, shower heads and other conservation devices only added up to .4 percent of the about 16,000 acre feet the district uses each year.

An acre foot will supply three average households with water for one year.