Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Honored with Statewide Water Award

Monterey, CA (May 10, 2017) – In recognition of its victorious, high-stakes stand to protect some of the oldest water rights in California, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) was honored Wednesday with the 2017 ACWA (Association of California Water Agencies) Excellence in Water Leadership Award.

According to ACWA, the prestigious annual award recognizes those who make a “remarkable and visible contribution to the enhancement, protection or development of water resources in California.” The award was presented at ACWA’s Spring Conference in Monterey to BBID GM Rick Gilmore, and BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro, who accepted on behalf of BBID’s Board of Directors.

“On behalf of the entire District, we extend our deepest appreciation to ACWA for this incredible recognition,” Kagehiro said. “Our fight was not only for BBID, but for districts statewide, whose water rights provide the backbone of the communities we collectively serve.”

“Providing reliable water is the essence of our mission,” Gilmore said. “Though it wasn’t easy, we had no choice but to take the lead, navigating extreme regulatory uncertainty to defend the water supply that is rightfully ours.”

ACWA President Kathleen Tiegs, left, poses with BBID GM Rick Gilmore, center, and BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro.

Amidst harsh drought in 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued unprecedented curtailments, and subsequently accused BBID of taking water when none was available, threatening a $5-plus million fine. BBID’s legal team fought back to preserve the District’s pre-1914 water rights, disproving the state’s arguments. The SWRCB eventually dismissed the case, securing a victory that would resonate throughout California’s water community.

“Byron-Bethany’s district staff and elected officials understood what was at stake for their community,” said ACWA President Kathleen Tiegs. “Their foresight, leadership and ability to build consensus in the face of extreme challenge kept water flowing for the residents, farmers, agricultural workers and families in their multi-county service area.”

BBID was nominated for the Excellence in Water Leadership Award by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA), a collective of water agencies representing more than 2 million acres of 29 federal and exchange water service contractors.

“California is blessed to have thousands of dedicated water leaders who make our incredible water management system work so well,” said SLDMWA Executive Director Jason Peltier. “When leadership shines through most clearly is in a time of crisis, and Rick and his Board earned this award by leaning forward into the regulatory machine that now controls so much of our system. It took guts and commitment to secure justice. They did it.”

The 2017 Excellence in Water Leadership Award.

Demonstrating BBID’s deep connection to its community, numerous Letters of support were submitted on BBID’s behalf, including one from Gay Costa of the Mountain House School District.

“Mr. Gilmore, the BBID Board, and their staff went into the hearings with the weight of our farmers, ranchers’ community and this school on their shoulders,” Costa wrote. “The students witnessed a pillar of their community stand up for their right to carry on their family business and continue a culture deep in tradition and pride.”

Farmer Mike Sandhu also wrote in support of the District, “Without BBID’s stand, growers could have been stripped of our livelihoods and driven off our land that, for some of us, goes back generations. Their commitment secured our children’s futures. We have the water we need today – and tomorrow – thanks to BBID.”

Another letter was submitted by former BBID counsel and current in-house counsel for Placer County Water Agency, Dan Kelly.

“While, in certain circles, BBID’s decision to challenge the SWRCB’s curtailments was not popular – it was the courageous thing to do,” Kelly wrote. “Leaders are not people who simply fall in line. Leaders are people who make hard decisions; often unpopular, to achieve the right and just result. Rick Gilmore and the BBID Board of Directors did just that.”

As part of the Excellence in Water Leadership Award, BBID will be privileged to present a $5,000 charitable donation to a non-profit organization of their choosing that works toward the enhancement and protection of California’s water resources.

WATCH: Click below to see BBID accept the 2017 ACWA Excellence in Water Leadership Award!

Water Reform Bill One Step Closer to Becoming Law

Sacramento, CA (April 27, 2017) – Legislation restoring fairness to water rights holders across California is one step closer to becoming law. Assembly Bill 313, a major reform introduced by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D- Merced) passed through its first committee on Tuesday. The Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife voted 13-0 (with two abstentions) to send AB 313 onto the next step. Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) provided technical support in crafting the bill, which provides fixes to California’s broken water management system.

“On behalf of the District, I commend Assemblyman Gray for showing the visionary leadership to tackle this critical issue that impacts communities across the state,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “As BBID itself has experienced, state agencies wield unchecked power that prevents all water rights holders from being treated fairly.”

AB 313 proposes to restructure water rights hearings, creating a new Water Rights Division in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) currently exercises quasi- judicial authority to hold water rights hearings. The SWRCB writes regulations, initiates enforcement actions, and conducts hearings in which the Board staff act as prosecutors and the SWRCB itself acts as the judge and jury. At Tuesday’s Committee hearing, BBID GM Rick Gilmore provided testimony in strong support.

“The current system inappropriately grants blanket power over water rights to the State Water Board, and creates inherent biases that make impartiality an impossibility,” Gilmore said. “We need neutral parties to intervene in these complicated matters to ensure fairness above all else.”

Administrative law judges would preside over water rights matters in the legislation’s newly-created Water Rights Division. The Division would conduct hearings and make recommendations to the Executive Director of the SWRCB that the Executive Director could accept, reject, or modify. The new structure ensures objectivity, while still providing state water agency experts the forum to give input.

AB 313 was amended from its original form, which initially included more sweeping reforms to California’s water management structure. After Tuesday’s vote, the latest, streamlined version now moves to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, which will consider the bill in the coming weeks.

“AB 313 isn’t a fix-all for what ails California water management,” Gilmore said, “but thanks to Assemblyman Gray, it’s a significant step in the right direction.”

UPDATE: In Historically Wet Year, Farmers to Receive Full Water Supply

Byron, CA (April 11, 2017) – Byron-Bethany Irrigation District General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement: 

“For the first time in more than a decade, farmers in Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) Central Valley Project (CVP) service area will rightfully enjoy a full water supply. Today’s updated allocation announcement from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, increasing the south-of-Delta CVP allocation from 65% to 100%, is long-awaited news for our growers. The decision is certainly appropriate in the wake of a historically wet winter that brought near-record rainfall and snow. BBID also applauds the Bureau for allowing unused water from this year’s allocation, to be stored and used next year.”

“Unfortunately, the announcement may have come too late. Many planting decisions have already been made, based on a lesser – and now, outdated – water supply. The delay highlights the need for change. BBID remains committed to working with our local, state and federal partners to seek solutions for a water system that falls short for California’s cities, its agricultural community and its environment.”

Delayed Decision Proves System is Broken, Prolongs Regulatory Drought

Byron, CA (March 23, 2017) – Farmers left waiting in limbo to learn how much water they would receive from the Central Valley Project (CVP) finally have their answer – and it is stunningly disappointing.

On Wednesday, after weeks of inexplicable delays that hamstrung farmers at the outset of the growing season, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation finally announced a mere 65% allocation for South-of-Delta CVP contractors, including Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). The CVP, one of the state’s largest infrastructure projects, is managed by the federal government and delivers water to the Central Valley.

“If there was ever a year for a full, 100% allocation, this is it,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “This is the wettest year ever in California. The state has double the water it normally has this time of year. Our reservoirs are literally overflowing. Our snowpack is at more than 150% of normal. This delayed decision extends our regulatory drought and shows how badly broken California’s water system is.”

Instead of utilizing what should be abundant water supplies to grow farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to feed California and the nation, growers in BBID’s CVP service area will yet again face shortages. The lack of a timely decision was damaging enough. Without knowing how much water is available, farmers can’t make critical decisions about how many acres to plant, or how many people to hire. The 65% allocation adds insult to injury, and may reduce how much local produce is available for California’s families.

Meanwhile, water that could be used in cities and on farms, or to recharge the state’s taxed groundwater flows into the ocean, in the name of failed environmental policies. Federal fisheries are hoarding water to keep river temperatures at arbitrary levels to protect fish – with no concrete improvements. These policies aren’t good for California’s communities, its farms or even its environment.

“The District is more committed than ever to doing whatever necessary to fix the system,” Gilmore added. “We must finally build new infrastructure to store more water in wet years. We must pursue constructive regulatory solutions to properly divvy water between the state’s cities, its agriculture community and the environment. That’s the best – and only – way to insulate against future droughts and secure long-term water reliability for not only our growers, but the entire state.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Acts to Protect Local Groundwater

Byron, CA (March 21, 2017) – At its regular board meeting Tuesday morning, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) took action to secure the sustainability of local groundwater resources. Following a public hearing, BBID’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to become a groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) for a portion of the Tracy Subbasin, which underlies the District’s service area in portions of Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Alameda Counties. As a GSA, the District will work cooperatively with surrounding agencies, cities and counties to manage groundwater in a responsible, sustainable manner.

The formulation of GSAs is required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA, which became state law in 2014, directs local agencies to work together to develop local groundwater sustainability plans in basins and sub-basins classified by the state as medium or high priority. The Tracy Subbasin has been classified as medium priority by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). Under SGMA, if agencies are unwilling or unable to act, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) can intervene and set guidelines for local groundwater management.

“This initial step begins what will be a lengthy, but important process to sustainably manage local groundwater,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “Though groundwater is not a main source of supply for our growers, we’re acting proactively to ensure these management decisions are made at the local level by those who know the conditions best.”

As part of the resolution approved by the BBID Board, the District intends to develop groundwater sustainability plans for portions of the Tracy Subbasin within District boundaries in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties, and both within and outside BBID’s boundaries in Alameda County. The Board voted to enter a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work with multiple agencies within Contra Costa County. In San Joaquin County, the District expects to collaborate with the City of Tracy to resolve overlaps in proposed GSA service areas. In Alameda County, the District plans to pursue an agreement with Zone 7 Water Agency, in which Zone 7 would formally delegate to BBID its authority to manage groundwater within Zone 7’s service area.

Under SGMA regulations, GSA formation is required no later than June 30th, 2017. Groundwater sustainability plans for the Tracy Subbasin must be completed by January of 2022.

Farmers Left in Limbo After “Extremely Puzzling” Water Allocation Announcement

Byron, CA (February 28, 2017) – Byron-Bethany Irrigation District General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement:

“In what’s shaping up as the wettest year on record, farmers in Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) Central Valley Project (CVP) service area are stuck in limbo, their water held hostage apparently at the behest of federal fishery agencies.

Today’s extremely puzzling announcement from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation means some CVP users will receive a full 100% allocation in 2017, while many of their immediate neighbors, including BBID, will have to wait weeks to find out what this year’s water supply will be. This nonsensical, imbalanced approach introduces unnecessary and potentially costly uncertainty to many of the District’s growers, who are now forced to wait to plant crops.”

“As we have seen time and again, federal fisheries are hoarding water in a misguided effort to keep river temperatures at an arbitrary level to protect fish – at everyone else’s expense. Today’s announcement underscores how badly the water supply system, built to bring water to farms and communities, has been commandeered by environmental interests.

With months left in the rainy season, reservoirs are already filled. The Bureau itself acknowledged historic precipitation levels. There is plenty of water to go around. And yet, there is still no balance in sharing our overflowing supplies between mounting environmental demands and the water users who fund the system and rely upon its supplies. Our growers expect – and deserve – better.” – Rick Gilmore, GM

Solutions Proposed to Fix State Water Management

Sacramento, CA (February 6, 2017) – New legislation introduced Monday by Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) would make sweeping, necessary changes to California’s water management. Assembly Bill 313 seeks to fix the state’s broken water rights system, removing critical conflicts of interest that improperly allow state agencies to act as prosecution, judge and jury.

“BBID is proud to stand with Assemblyman Gray in support of AB 313,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “The solutions outlined in the bill address some of the most pressing issues in California water, which the District faced first-hand.”

For the better part of a year, BBID fought to protect its pre-1914 water rights, on behalf of the district’s farmers and senior water rights holders across the state. A $5-million complaint brought by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) alleged BBID diverted water when none was available. The case was dismissed by the SWRCB last June, citing lack of evidence. Following the case dismissal, BBID pledged to take an active leadership role in a collaborative effort to help solve the state’s water issues and bring clarity to California’s water rights.

AB 313 would revamp the state’s water rights administration and enforcement, as well as the State Water Project. It would transfer the existing authority of the SWRCB over water rights to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), which has expertise and is better structured to handle water rights matters.

“The current system allows the State Water Board to conduct water rights hearings in which Board staff act as prosecutors, presenting a case to Board members who act as the judge, in a court the Board runs themselves,” Gilmore said. “This unchecked power prevents water right holders across the state from being fairly treated.”

Under AB 313, enforcement proceedings would be conducted by a neutral third party, in the form of a newly-created Water Rights Division under the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). A new State Water Project Authority would assume DWR’s current authority and water rights for the State Water project, eliminating the potential conflict of DWR administering and enforcing water rights, while possessing water rights of its own.

Though the current model of California water governance has gone largely unchanged since 1969, experts warn improvements are necessary to meet the needs of the future. A 2010 report from the Little Hoover Commission, Managing for Change: Modernizing California’s Water Governance, urged legislators in no uncertain terms to restructure the system that “…leaves the state ill-positioned for the challenge of managing its water resources.”