Further Increases to Water Fees ‘Reprehensible’

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Regulation, Water

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has moved forward with a proposal to further increase water fees for several programs. President and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA), Roger Isom described the action as “reprehensible.” Despite opposition from several agricultural groups, SWRCB is going ahead with a series of fee increases to cover salary and benefit expenditure increases of four percent for at least the next three years.

Water Fees

“Whether it’s waste discharge fees for food processors or your irrigated lands fees, it’s a minimum of four percent. Some of them are as high as a seven percent increase this year for those fees to discharge water,” said Isom. “It’s gone up for I don’t know how many years running. It’s built-in now despite every effort we’ve made to try to reign those fees in.”

Fees for the Waste Discharge Requirement Program have already increased by 15 percent over the last three years. WAPA pointed out during last month’s hearing that SWRCB fees were already exponentially higher than other regulatory programs. “You add our air quality fees, our hazardous materials fees, our environmental fees, you add all those up, the State Water Board fees are more than 2.5 times all those other ones added together,” Isom noted.

The SWRCB is also seeking to build a five percent reserve on top of covering the increase in wages and benefits for staff. Industry groups have raised concerns about how previous reserves have been spent and questioned the overall budgeting guidelines for SWRCB programs. Isom said the lack of accountability and oversight sets water fees apart from other regulatory fees, such as those administered by the San Joaquin Valley Air District.

“They do zero-based budgeting. In other words, if they have to increase the cost on one program, they look at how they can cut or be more efficient on another program. So, they shoot very hard to try to minimize their increases,” Isom noted. “In fact, they’ve only had a couple of increases in more than 20 years. Yet, the State Water Board just does it every year.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West