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Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Vol. 32, No. 41 
Page 1, column 1

California water costs skyrocket

-- "We are just blown away," said Marsha Pitkin.

By Liz Bowen, Assistant Editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

SISKIYOU COUNTY – Water right owners will be paying up to six times more this year for their watermaster service.

"I can’t afford to pay that," Sam Thackeray said in disgust, last weekend when he learned of the increase.

Thackeray and his wife, Jenny, lease land for their small cowherd in Scott Valley, near Etna. Irrigation water for the cow pasture is provided through the French Creek watermastered area. The family’s cattle budget is already on a shoestring.

The French Creek runs through Bill Krum’s ranch, a few miles up the road from Thackerays’ pasture. His cost for water last year was $260. Last week, he found out that the 2004-2005 bill will be $1,488.

"A doubling of the cost wouldn’t have surprised me," said Krum, who has been involved in a variety of meetings as a leader in SOSS, the Save Our Shasta and Scott Towns and Valleys coalition, regarding the coho salmon issue. But this huge increase is a shock to Krum.

Months ago, agricultural and county leaders were told that the state’s half of the watermaster service provided by the California Department of Water Resources would not be available this year due to the crisis of the state budget.

Over in Shasta Valley near Yreka, Bruce Fiock is not part of a water district. Yet, his water right apportionment cost will increase from $400 last year to $1,900 this year.

Fiock is stunned and immediately questioned, "How and when did they come up with this huge number?"

That is the question everyone is asking.

Marsha Pitkin receives her irrigation water through the Shasta River Water Association.

Last year, the assessment for the association was $3,618. This year it is $15,306. The cost will most likely be divided up among the users by their cfs apportionments, but it will be a big increase for everyone.

"We are just blown away," said Pitkin. "We are wondering how we will afford to pay it. It is overwhelming."

Jim Wilson, another leader in SOSS and rancher in Shasta Valley, is stumped. Agricultural leaders and county officials have been involved in the water issue opposing the coho salmon listing to the California Endangered Species Act.

This action does not look to be directly related to the coho listing with the California ESA. But landowners were blindsided, after the state budget was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This water cost increase comes from the state senate bill 1107, which was part of the state budget.

"We are in such difficult times," said Wilson. "There was no lead time. We were not allowed input," he added.

Like other landowners, Wilson sees the cost increase as prohibitive for farmers and ranchers. For many the bottom line doesn’t show much black.

Right now the increases are being typed onto the coming year’s tax statements at the Siskiyou County Courthouse and will be itemized under "special district" costs. It is the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) that will be receiving the funds, because it is the agency that bills the county. Then the county bills each water right holder.

In the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the county collected $62,160 from Siskiyou County water right owners that use state watermaster service.

In the 2004-2005 fiscal year, DWR is billing the county for $247,900.

Siskiyou County Assessor, Mike Mallory, said that the increase on the tax bills will be "substantial" and that the county has not reassessed property values above the two percent allowed by Prop. 13.

Interestingly, the total amount of cfs that is being used by water right holders throughout the county went down, yet the cost increase for Shasta Valley water right holders averages about 400 percent; in Scott Valley the cost increase averages 570 percent.

Itemized cost for water districts

Montague Water Conservation District will be hit hard by the apportionment cost increase. In 2003, the district paid $13,012 for 144.6 cfs. In 2004, the district will be billed for $52,436 for the same amount of cfs.

Grenada Irrigation District was $3,618 in 2003 and will increase to $14,582 in 2004.

Hammond Res. Irrigation Association will increase from $116 to $468.

The City of Weed has a water right and in 2003 paid the DWR $226. In 2004 they are being billed for $906.

Even another state government will have to pay more for water. The Shasta Valley Wildlife Area, owned and operated by the California Department of Fish and Game will pay $1,192 this year. Last year, its cost was $296.





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

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