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California water master fees may be reduced

The Pioneer Press grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

At the very top of the state --
Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Vol. 32, No. 45
Page A1, column 1

-- Time is short.

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press

SISKIYOU COUNTY, CALIFORNIA - Officials are scrambling to make sure that the correct water master fee is typed onto tax statements.

"We have a timing crunch," said Howard Moody, Siskiyou County chief administrative officer, during the county board of supervisors meeting on Sept. 14.

The tax statement deadline for the county treasurer is just before the end of September. Fees for garbage, special districts and water master service appear on tax statements sent out by the county.

The good news is that Moody, agriculturists and other Northern California counties put pressure by way of phone calls, emails and letters on state officials. Once notified, many holders of water rights were outraged when they learned recently that their service fees had jumped three-and-a-half times. The water right owners said they couldn’t afford the huge increase. Their profit margin was just too narrow.

Bill Eiler and Scott Murphy, vice presidents with the Siskiyou Farm Bureau Federation, also spoke to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14. Eiler said that the California Farm Bureau is challenging the legality of the SB 1107 bill, which increased the water master assessment. Murphy said the French Creek water users are considering removing themselves from water master service. Both said the increase would be difficult for farmers to pay.

In 2003, all the irrigators under

water master service

in Siskiyou County paid $84,000.

This year, the bill was $377,000.

Water master service is decreed by a judge, usually because of an argument over water allotments (amounts) among water users in a specific area. All of Shasta Valley is under water master service. Scott Valley has two major water mastered areas of French Creek and Shackleford Creek and several small service areas.

The service is provided by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) as a non-involved third party; and normally ends the controversy.

Bill Bennett, a state level official with DWR, was in attendance at the board of supervisors meeting and reported that the applied pressure has indeed caught the eyes of other state level officials and the governor. Bennett said his mistake was going on a three-week vacation in July to raft the Colorado River. Changes were made in his office that surprised him.

Earlier in the year, he appraised the local Resource Conservation Districts that the water master service was likely to double. In years before, the state DWR paid half of the service and the water right holder paid for half of the service. With the state’s budget still in crisis, the water holder was going to have to pay for the full cost.

There have been two water masters and a third water master, who is part-time, who work the Scott and Shasta Valleys.

But even Bennett was shocked, when Blair Hart left an irate message on his cell phone about the huge increase.

Bureau of Reclamation will supply $195,000

Bennett has found some additional funds to augment the lack of state financial support for half of the assessment. An agreement with the federal Bureau of Reclamation of the Klamath Project in Klamath Falls was set at $195,000. This should reduce costs to the 2003 assessment, Bennett said, giving water right holders one year to find enough funds or find a fix.

Christine Karas, deputy area director for the Klamath office of the Bureau of Reclamation, verified that the bureau has set $195,000 aside from this fiscal budget to augment the Scott and Shasta assessment costs for service by the DWR.

The rest of the state water mastered areas will likely pay double of last year’s assessment.







Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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