Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Randy Rohde adjusts a valve running to an irrigation sprinkler Friday on his property near Rickreall. Rohde would pay $100 per year under a proposed water use fee.
September 18, 2012
POLK COUNTY -- A new annual state charge for holders of water supply and surface water permits could emerge during the 2013 Oregon Legislature.
The Oregon Water Resources Commission has proposed a $100 "water management fee" for every water right a farmer, municipality or other entity owns, with a cap of $1,000 for 10 or more rights.
The resulting funding -- about $10 million per biennia -- would support technical and field services performed by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD).
The concept is opposed by groups such as the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau.
"It's just a big change in how we manage water in the state," said Katie Fast, OFB governmental affairs director. "To actually charge for this resource is a big difference."
The proposal is part of a budget OWRD has submitted for 2013-15. If it makes the governor's recommended state budget in December, lawmakers would consider it during the legislative session.
There are approximately 84,000 water rights in place in Oregon, 2,500 of them in Polk County, according to OWRD. The state is exploring the idea following a two-year review of ways to boost OWRD revenue. The agency has lost funds and staffing from Oregon's general fund for field scientists and watermasters, said Brenda Bateman, OWRD policy specialist.
Watermasters manage water supplies in a given region and serve as local contacts for landowners, government agencies and watershed councils. They and their staff also conduct streamflow measurements, gather groundwater level data, inspect for hazards and other tasks
The Oregon Water Resources Commission has proposed a $100 "water management fee" for every water right, up to an annual limit of $1,000 per entity.
The department had 160 staff members during the early 1990s and 37 county-funded assistant watermasters; the staff has fallen by about 15, while counties now support only 15 field positions.
Polk County doesn't have its own watermaster, but shares one with a larger district that covers 3,614 miles and includes five other counties.
Ideas for departmental revenue that didn't make the cut were a $50 annual fee for domestic exempt wells -- those for home use -- and a $10 annual connection fee to cities and water authorities that could have resulted in a pass through to customers.
Fast said there's an issue of parity OFB disagrees with, as a farmer and municipality would pay the same fee despite the difference in usage.
"It's also a cumulative thing," she added. "This isn't the only time the cost of government has been passed down to the individual."
Bateman said OWRD staff is spread thin and that the agency doesn't have a federal counterpart like other parts of state government to fill in service gaps for citizens.
"The responsibility lies with us," Bateman said.
Monmouth City Manager Scott McClure said he can see the reasoning behind the fee, recalling a situation he encountered while working in Colorado where one state water agency was so short staffed that plans submitted for wastewater improvements or changes took two to three years for processing.
Randy Rohde, a Rickreall farmer, has two pump sites he uses to irrigate almost 100 acres of silage corn, radish and clover. The fee proposal was news to him, Rohde said.
"It's a little frustrating. They always come up with something, it was dam inspection fees a few years ago," Rohde said. "It's just another cost ... it won't break the bank, but it all adds up."