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California Water Districts Don't Need Voter Approval On Fees

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Sprinklers irrigate the field at Kit Carson Middle School, one day after rains swept through the area, in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, April 8, 2015.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

(AP) - The California Supreme Court says the state's water conservation districts don't need voter approval to charge their customers fees to fund programs aimed at protecting groundwater.

But the justices in a unanimous ruling on Monday said they also cannot charge cities disproportionately more than farmers for conservation efforts.

A legal expert says the decision ensures the water districts have a source of funding to undertake projects intended to replenish ground water - a key irrigation source for farmers that became even more vital during California's historic drought.

The ruling, however, may mean conservation districts have to reallocate fees between cities and farmers. That's because the court appeared to invalidate a state law that required the districts to charge cities at least three times more than farmers.

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