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(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Nelson T. Albano and Matthew W. Milam and Assemblywoman Celeste Riley to prohibit any fee or tax on water usage by farmers is advancing.
The bill (A-2693) would bar the state and the Delaware River Basin Commission from imposing any administrative, application, processing, registration or any other type of fee or charge on an applicant for an agricultural or horticultural water usage certification.
“Taxes are too high for everyone in New Jersey and we shouldn’t be imposing additional burdens on anyone, but occasionally we hear talk of new and higher fees on water usage in this state that would prove devastating to our fragile but vital farming community,” said Albano (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland). “We need to do what we can to protect farmers, especially during this tough economy.”
“Farming is New Jersey’s heritage, but it’s also an industry encroached upon by environmental factors, development and economic worries,” said Milam (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland). “If we can give certainty to farmers who are so valuable in our economic development that they will not be taxed for using water, then we are taking a strong step toward a stronger New Jersey.”
“Farmers obviously rely on water for their livelihood, so we need to make sure they’re protected when it comes to their ability to use this reDest,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Salem/Gloucester). “Agriculture is vital to our economic development, and this is a clear step we can take to protect it.”
The bill would establish the Office of Agricultural Water Usage Assistance in the Department of Agriculture and would require the Department of Environmental Protection to consult with that office and the county agricultural agents in the administration of the water usage certification program for agricultural or horticultural purposes on farmland.
The bill provides that the DEP would approve the water usage certification recommended by the county agricultural agent, unless the recommendation countermands other DEP water allocation or usage requirements or considerations.
Under current law, imposition of a fee is allowed for the cost of processing, monitoring and administering a water usage certification program for persons who divert any ground or surface water for agricultural and horticultural purposes, or other agriculturally-related purposes, including aquaculture.
A water usage certification is required for diversions of 100,000 or more gallons of water per day for agricultural or horticultural purposes.
The Office of Agricultural Water Usage Assistance would consult with the DEP concerning the water usage certification program and provide technical assistance to those diverting water for agricultural or horticultural purposes.
The bill was recently released with bipartisan support 5-0 by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural ReDests Committee chaired by Albano. It’s now been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.