The State Water Resources Control Board has given an early forecast of fee increases for the next fiscal year based on current state budget projections.

While spending is expected to change little, staff are hoping to reach a 5% fund reserve for water quality programs, which could translate to a 5% increase in Irrigated Lands fees and more in other programs. Water board fees have already risen about 130% over the past decade for some programs.

Farm groups pushed back, arguing a third year of drought is not the time to build a reserve. Agricultural Council of California President Emily Rooney noted the board has dipped into the reserve in the past to prevent drastic fee increases, but she urged only a moderate approach to funding the reserve. Rooney plans to ask lawmakers to use the general taxpayer fund to double the reserve and offset foundational costs for the programs—a years-long effort by farm interests.

Water rights fees could increase 7% as well, due in part to new data modernization spending. Bob Gore, a policy advocate for the Gualco Group, pointed out the information has a broad public benefit in helping the state respond to drought, and farmers should not bear the cost. But staff responded that farmers are covering 50% of the cost through fees, which is better than the typical 70% share.

Staff will have a better estimate on fees for the June meeting, after tax revenues have come in.