Court overturns fees charged to water rights holders
» January 18, 2007 «
Family farmers who were wrongfully required to pay a state water rights fee may have their money refunded as a result of an appeals court ruling. After a four-year legal battle, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento decided in favor of farmers and ranchers who protested imposition of a new and unconstitutional state fee that resulted in a total collection of more than $20 million.
Water rights fees were levied on about 7,000 water rights holders beginning in 2004. The court agreed with the California Farm Bureau Federation that those fees were invalid and unconstitutional.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, along with the Northern California Water Association, Central Valley Project Water Association, Imperial Irrigation District and about 200 water users, led the legal challenge to the yearly fee. The court determined the fees far exceeded any benefits to people with water rights, and were used to fund other activities of the State Water Resources Control Board's Water Rights Division.
"Farm Bureau had serious concerns, not just about the constitutionality of the fee, but also about the hasty adoption of the fee provision, lack of budget analysis and the collection of far more money than is needed to administer existing small water rights," said Carl Borden, CFBF associate counsel.
Farm Bureau took legal action after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1049 in 2003 and directed the board to recover the full costs of its Water Rights Division from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2004, and each year thereafter. SB 1049 passed with a simple majority vote of the Legislature.
Rather than establish fees for actual services provided by its Water Rights Division, the SWRCB instead imposed a 3 cents per-acre-foot fee, with a $100 minimum, on all water rights permits and licenses, regardless of whether the SWRCB provides any service to these water rights holders. The fees have been imposed annually on the amount of water authorized to be diverted under a permit or license, whether the water is actually used or not.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization, works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 92,000 members.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top