22 Apr 2008

Coachella Reactionaries

In a prior post, I lauded Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) for implementing an increasing block-rate tariff for water. Increasing rates are the best way to get water to small users and make big users pay more for using more.

In a related story, CVWD is in a dispute with big users (farmers, golf courses and cities(?)) over "recharge" fees to pay for pumping imported water (from the Colorado River) underground for storage and later use.

The big users are being asked to pay a tax increase from $7.70 to $10/acre foot. On a percentage basis, 30 percent sounds like a lot. Compared to what farmers in the area pay ($17/AF, it also sounds like a lot. Compared to the $600-$1,200/AF cities pay for water, $2.30 is peanuts. So -- what are they fighting about?
  • "Indio officials say they have not seen any scientific evidence that shows they benefit from current recharge efforts"
  • "'We believe the fee is unconstitutional and that it violates Proposition 218,' said Jim Smith, the city's director of public works. Proposition 218, approved in 1996, requires voter approval for increases to general taxes, assessments and certain user fees."
The "scientific evidence" thing may be a smoke-screen, but let's ignore it. The unconstitutional claim is a lot more dubious. As I said yesterday, AB 2882 is meant to counter claims that increases in water rates are actually tax increases.

I don't know about you, but increases in my phone rate, my insurance rate, my gardener's rate (kidding -- I don't have one) are not increases in my tax rate. Taxes are for general operations, and water charges are for water. Not only do water rates have nothing to do with taxes, but they should be higher (to encourage conservation), and they have nothing to do with land: Water, especially imported water, can go elsewhere. Property taxes are for services specific to the property (fire protection, schools, etc.) Did I repeat myself enough?

Bottom Line: Whenever they say it's not about the money, it's about the money. Check this out: "Brian S. Harnik, an attorney representing Indian Palms Country Club, said residents, too, oppose the increased fee." Oh, so residents who play golf at the country club are upset that their green fees may go up? That's just too bad. If you play golf in the desert, you're gonna have to pay through the nose. [sorry -- the chutzpah is getting to me here...]


  1. Legally it is not correct to say that water has nothing to do with land. Both the riparian surface right and the overlying groundwater right treat the right to water as an essential appurtenance to land. Like mineral rights, the rights are typically incident to land ownership and are severed only by specific conveyance. Moreover, on a practically intuitive level, many of my farmers believe that water and land go together. (Indians and enviros would agree at the abstract level.)

    Only the cities and the free-market dudes think that water can go anywhere and do anything.

  2. Note that I said "imported" water. You are right.

  3. AB 2882 is meant to counter claims that increases in water rates are actually tax increases

    It can't. A statute can interpret the constitution but it can't over-ride it. Anyway, the Prop 218 claim has already been addressed by the California Supreme Court in its Bighorn decision.


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