The way Brown County irrigation water users George Sikes and Dudley Walker see it, some on the Brown County Water Improvement District Board of Directors are anti-farming.
Sikes owns Hidden Valley Nurseries, and Walker uses irrigation water for coastal hay. Their views are prompted by the water board's decisions to start raising water irrigation rates.
Water board member Dennis Graham said that's not the case at all — the board is not anti-agriculture but the board needs to raise irrigation rates because, Graham has said, the water district is subsidizing irrigation customers.
Water board members tabled action on raising irrigation rates on Nov. 13 after Graham said the proposed 10 percent increase — which would take the rate from $54 per acre foot to $59.40 per acre foot — is too low.
Graham suggested a rate of $81 per acre foot, noting that the district has been subsidizing irrigation water users. A consultant's study showed that the cost to the district of storing and delivering irrigation water is $184 per acre foot.
Sikes and Walker aren't convinced that number is accurate.
Some irrigation users have invested "millions of dollars in infrastructure," Sikes said. "Now they're going to make it where it is no longer feasible to be a farmer. … We're a farming community. We're blue collar."
Increasing irrigation water rates, Sikes said, will affect water users' livelihoods and will drive some users out of business. The board doesn't seem to understand that, Sikes said.
Graham said he does understand that.
"I'm not trying to drive away agriculture," Graham said. "I'm just trying to make the rates fair and bring it up near cost. … Our job is to manage the water. That's all I'm trying to do.
"I know this is a huge hurdle for the irrigators. I feel for the irrigators who have used the water for years and years … I just want them to pay their fair share. I'm not wishing any hardships on these folks."
Graham said it's not the irrigators' fault, but it's the water district's fault for not starting to increase the irrigation rates years ago but instead, increasing the cost of treated water.
Walker noted that the price of irrigation water doubled last year, going from $27 to $54 per acre foot — and now, Walker noted, Graham has proposed an increase to $81.
"I don't know what we'll do," Walker said.
Graham said he anticipates that the issue will be back on the December water board meeting. "I hope everybody comes in there with good attitudes," Graham said. "I hope nobody thinks anybody is trying to destroy their livelihood."
"I feel like they're trying to get rid of us," Walker said.
Water district General Manager Dennis Spinks had suggested at the Nov. 13 meeting that the board table the issue and receive public input "if you're going to make that big of an increase."
Last year, the water board set a goal of increasing irrigation rates by 10 percent a year for 10 years.