Chalk one up in the win column for the California dairy industry. Last week dairy industry representatives and lawmakers from the valley worked together to convince the state legislature budget committee not to increase wastewater discharge fees that dairies pay.

The idea had been floated as a way to help the state make up a projected budget deficit. And with no clear-cut solutions on the board, the idea could always be brought up again.

The argument is that sewage plants in the state and other facilities already pay annual wastewater disposal fees, so why too shouldn’t the state’s 2,100 dairies. And despite the fact that the dairy industry slipped out of the budget committee’s hold for now, the fees that others in the state pay will be raised significantly. Fees will increase up to a maximum of $20,000 for each discharge permit if the proposal is approved.

Currently, dairies pay a one-time fee of $2,000 to the Water Resources Control Board. Supporters of the proposal to impose annual wastewater discharge fees on the dairies say it will help cover the cost for the water board to regulate the state’s dairy industry. Estimated cost for the state water board to regulate dairies in 2002-03 is about $883,000.

"We haven't made a fuss about this (before) because our fees have remained steady over the years," said Bobbi Larson, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the California Association of Sanitation Agencies. Speaking to the Modesto Bee, Larson also said "Our position is that everyone who is regulated, and the water board has to expend resources on, ought to pay their fair share."

However, the dairy industry says since it cannot pass on the higher cost to consumers — in the same manner that say a sewage treatment plant could — that it would place an undue burden on family farms.

Lawmakers in the valley have supported the dairy industry over concerns that a new annual fee could give producers one more reason to consider moving operations from California. The dairy industry is a $4.6 billion industry for the state.

Modesto Bee