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 Additional fees hammering agriculture in the Scott and Shasta Valleys
by Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor, Pioneer Press 6/10/05

In another blow to local agriculture, Dwight Russell, Chief of the Northern District of the Department of Water Resources (DWR,) recently sent out a notice of a proposed increase in fees for the next tax year to water rights holders served by the State Watermaster. The mainstem Scott River is not currently served by a watermaster. However, tributaries such as French Creek, Wildcat Creek, Shackleford and Mill Creek are. (The entire Shasta River system has the service.) Also, both the Shasta and Scott Coho Recovery Plan and the proposed incidental take permit for coho require that the fidelity of water diversions to the adjudications be verified in some way, such as through a watermaster.

A watermaster determines the total amount of water available, the appropriate amount of water to be diverted at each diversion according to the water adjudication decree and then sets each diversion through devices such as a headgate. He/she is an agent of Superior Court. The Superior Court can order watermaster service or 15% or greater of the water use right holders on a river may request the service. Watermaster service is meant to reduce conflicts between water right holders by ensuring the water adjudication decree is followed. Fees for the service are collected for the state through the property tax bill.

Prior to 2004, State watermaster service was funded half through fees from water diverters and half by the state’s General Fund. In 2004, Senate 1107 and the Budget Act eliminated the state’s contribution. In addition, the DWR determined that true costs of the program had not been recovered for more than a decade. As a result, last year, DWR announced an astronomical rate increase. This was subsequently rolled back and a Klamath Bureau of Reclamation grant took care of the lost state match under normal fees. Locally, this meant that last year there was no increase felt in the diverter’s share of watermaster fees.

Russell warns diverters that fees for the forthcoming tax year of 2005-06 will “reflect an appropriately funded Program,” and that diverters can “expect an increase in your watermaster service bill that reflects the full cost of the program.” Preliminary indications are that the fee will increase several fold. Russell warns that water right holders need to transition to their own private fee-based service or be prepared to pay the higher fees established for State Waternaster Service.

In addition, the Water Code states that the watermaster may require a diverter to build a headgate or other diversion structure. Responsibility for costs are the diverter’s. If the structure is not built within 30 days, the watermaster may shut off the diversion. The diverter is also responsible for maintaining the structure.

At this time, Farm Bureau has taken the lead on finding some regional solutions. They are also looking at the type of mechanisms that must be in place for an alternative private watermaster service to function and meet requirements at a reasonable cost.

Dates to remember:  Wednesday, June 15, 2005, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Thursday June 16, 2005, from 8:00 am to 1:30 pm, the federal Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force will hold its quarterly meeting. at the Miner’s Inn Convention Center in Yreka.

Saturday, June 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Greenview Grange, the Scott River Watershed Council will be holding a forum on tribal trust responsibilities. For more information call (530)468-2487.

Legislation to watch: California Senator Barbara Boxer is proposing a bill called the National Oceans Protection Act of 2005. It will reform management of the ocean, coastal areas and fisheries. The bill will also promote ecosystem-based management principals and cover pollution and fish habitat protection. http://www.ems.org/nws/2005/06/09/fish_conservatio





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