United Water Conservation District may charge urban water users higher groundwater pumping fees than agricultural users, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court concluded that the fees are not property-based and therefore not subject to Proposition 13. In addition, the court concluded that the pumping fees fall under one of Proposition 26's exceptions, saying that the pump fees represent "payor-specific benefits" not subject to Prop. 26's requirements.
The City of Ventura sued United over the fact that the district charges the city fees that are three to five times that of agricultural users, as permitted in the state Water Code. United manages groundwater in a large area in western Ventura County. Historically, United relied on property tax revenue water delivery charges. But after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, United began charging customers for pumping the groundwater. Pump charges are governed by Water Code Section 75522, which permits United to charge different rates for agricultural and non-agricultural users and also permits United to separate its service area into different zones.