Water rate hikes have ranchers, farmers up in arms | TheUnion.com

Water rate hikes have ranchers, farmers up in arms

With rising transportation and feed costs eating up profits, local ranchers and farmers are bracing themselves for another rate hike to their water bills.

On Tuesday, about 20 agricultural water users from throughout Nevada County filled the board room of Nevada Irrigation District to get a clearer picture of how much their water rates will rise next year and what can be done to ease the pain.

“We’re going to try to find a way to help the agricultural district,” said Division 3 Director Scott Miller.

Agricultural water users already are seeing big increases that went into effect in March.

“I’m trying to raise cattle. Cows don’t flat have a way to pay for water,” said Daryl Oest, 57. He runs 150 head of cattle on the same piece of land his grandparents first settled, in Placer County across Bear River on Lone Star Road.

For the six-month irrigation season, Oest’s water bill jumped by $1,500. He has conserved all that he can, and he can’t afford sprinkler system, Oest said. He was troubled by discussions of another rate hike for next year.

“Eventually, it will put me out of business,” Oest said.

Legal experts will look at all funding streams and reserves to see whether money could be found to help offset farmers’ costs. Then the Water Rates Committee, comprised of Miller and Division 4 Director Paul Williams, will reconvene and consider their next step.

Agriculture users number fewer than people who buy treated water – 6,000 compared to 19,000 – but farmers and ranchers use the bulk of NID’s water.

Higher prices that went into effect in March drove up water fees by as much as 25 percent for some ranchers who flood irrigate their pastures.

“It’s slowly pushing ranchers out of the county,” said rancher and fifth-generation Nevada County resident Darryl Sanford. He saw a 25 percent increase on his water bill this year.

“On a ranch, it’s surviving right now. The margin is not there,” Sanford said. A $500 to $1,000 increase in costs can put a rancher out of business, he said.

Prices for some users rose this year for the first time in two years to meet the state’s equity requirements under Proposition 218.

As a result, the district’s smallest and largest irrigation water customers saw the highest jumps on their water bills.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

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