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Groundwater agency looking at user fee options

SOUTH COUNTY — Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency is looking at two options to impose fees on groundwater users.

The fee options come as the next phase in the state’s goal to manage groundwater resources. The ultimate goal of the agency is to create sustainable management practices considering the next 20 to 40 years of groundwater.

The agency began with three options for a fee schedule to fund its operational costs.

The fee revenue is projected to start funding costs in July 2019.

“This is a regulatory fee and will be imposed pursuit to SGMA and water code 10730,” said Catherine Hansford of Hansford Economic Consulting. “The board will have to pass the fee.”

The first water fee option is based on a connection fee for municipal users, whether industrial, residential or governmental properties that are receiving a water service. The agricultural properties would pay per irrigated acre.

The second option is based on a pumping hybrid, meaning that every well would pay an annual fee. Municipal well owners and agricultural well owners would pay per acre foot extracted.

The fee would exclude residents who own wells, were not using the well for agriculture and had property under two acres.

“The idea here was could we give people an option on whether to report their pumping or not,” Hansford said. “In the long term, probably not; however, we were trying to listen to people and see if we could come up with something that would work that way.”

If a well owner were unwilling to share their well data, they would pay an additional fee.

The third option is based on a parcel fee and acreage fee hybrid. This option takes into account parcels that are less than 2.5 acres and served by a water system. These parcels would pay a fee that would be the same no matter the size of the parcel. The parcels that are more than 2.5 acres and not served by a water system would be charged per acre.

All three options were taken before the Groundwater Sustainability Advisory Committee on Sept. 15, during which the first option received the most points, followed by the third option, with the second option getting the least amount of votes.

“Direction that we got back at that meeting was to bring more detail back on approaches one and three,” Hansford said. “Approach two has not dropped out. They also asked consideration of impacts to disadvantaged communities and create a description of how the revenue will be collected.”

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