Governor Brown Signs BBID-Backed Water Rights Fairness Bill

Sacramento, CA (September 24, 2018) – Landmark legislation crafted by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) to restore Constitutional due process and restore fairness for California’s water right holders is now law. Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 747, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). AB 747 passed the Legislature by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

“The Governor’s action cements a significant step toward improving the transparency, objectivity and accountability for California’s water rights administration and enforcement,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “This law will go a long way toward implementing the necessary checks and balances, as well as restoring the water community’s faith in the process.”

AB 747 establishes a fairer process for water right holders who for many years felt they had little choice but to settle enforcement actions brought against them by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB currently acts as both prosecutor and judge in enforcement actions initiated by the Board. This bill creates an Administrative Hearings Office within the SWRCB. Expert attorneys will serve as hearing officers to hear and adjudicate complex, critically important water rights matters. A similar structure is already in effect for many state agencies.

This legislation is the response to AB 313, which was introduced last session by Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced), and ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown. Since then, BBID and other local government districts proactively engaged the Brown Administration to find common ground.  AB 747 is the result of that effort.

“On behalf of the BBID Board of Directors, I would like to thank Assemblymember Caballero and her staff for all of their hard work, and recognize Assemblymember Gray’s important contributions at the outset of this effort,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “We must also thank Governor Brown and his Administration for their recognition of this critical issue impacting communities statewide, and for their collaboration to reach a solution.”

The new hearing unit will take effect in the coming months.

BBID-Backed Water Rights Bill Passes, Headed to Gov. Brown’s Desk

Sacramento, CA (August 31, 2018) – In a decisive vote, lawmakers acted late Friday to pass Assembly Bill 747, water rights legislation introduced by Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). The bill crafted by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) takes steps to restore Constitutional due process and fundamental fairness currently lacking for California’s water right holders. The bill passed the Senate and Assembly with strong bipartisan support on the last night of the legislative session.

“We commend Assemblymember Caballero for taking on this core issue impacting communities across California,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “This good governance legislation is the result of constructive collaboration with the Brown Administration and a collective recognition of the need for greater transparency, accountability, and – above all – fairness in our water rights administration.”

Currently, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) acts as both prosecutor and judge in enforcement actions the Board initiates against water users. AB 747 removes that built-in conflict of interest by creating an Administrative Hearings Office within the SWRCB. Expert attorneys will act as an objective third party to oversee and adjudicate complex, critically important water rights matters.

“Too often, water right holders feel they have no choice but to settle enforcement actions given the current structure,” Gilmore added. “AB 747 levels the playing field and will help restore faith in the process, ensuring water right holders get a fair shake as guaranteed by our Constitution.”

AB 747 is a follow-up to AB 313, which was previously introduced by Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced). AB 313 passed the Legislature with similarly strong support on both sides of the aisle, but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown. Since then, all parties have engaged in productive dialogue to reach a compromise that provides important protections for water rights holders.

“We would be remiss if we didn’t recognize Assemblymember Gray’s work on this issue,” Gilmore said. “From the very beginning, he championed this cause. We wouldn’t be where we are tonight without his tireless dedication.”

AB 747 now heads to Governor Brown’s desk for his signature.

Congress Coalition Expresses “Fervent Opposition” to State Water Board Plan, Vows to Protect Water Supply

Members of the United States Congress are vowing to take action if the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) adopts a plan that calls for increased flows through the San Joaquin River. In a letter sent to the SWRCB, legislators say the proposal “clearly subordinates the beneficial human use of the water in favor of fish and wildlife measures of dubious validity…”

The full letter is below.

Letter to SWRCB Regarding Unimpaired Flow

State Water Board Chair Responds to BBID Letter on Historic Water Rights Case

On Friday, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Chair Felicia Marcus issued a formal response to a letter sent last month by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

As part of the District’s efforts to fairly and efficiently resolve landmark water rights litigation, BBID issued the letter, which references ongoing legal action that BBID and other petitioners are engaged in against the SWRCB in Santa Clara County.

Read more about the case here  and here.

The SWRCB’s response is below.

8.10.18 FM Response Ltr BBID

SLDMWA: State Water Board Bay-Delta Plan “Not Supported by Policy, Science or Law”

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority‘s member agencies, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, submitted the below letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), expressing “significant disappointment” in response to the SWRCB’s plan for unimpaired flows through the Southern Delta and South San Joaquin River.

It says, in part: “…The approach taken to protect water quality for the beneficial use of water by San Joaquin River watershed fish populations (often referred to as the “San Joaquin River flow objectives”) is crude… not supported by credible science.”

The letter continues: “In addition, the proposed Program of Implementation inexplicably imposes new requirements – minimum storage requirements for the reservoirs on tributaries to the San Joaquin River and a requirement that flows are protected “through Delta.” It also directly and “as applied” prematurely assigns responsibility to water right holders. The addition of new requirements and assignment of responsibility, which will affect vested property interests, are not supported by the facts or the law.”

Read the full statement below.

2018-07-27 Ltr to SWRCB re Bay-Delta Plan Comments

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: State Water Board Bay-Delta Plan Prioritizes Fish & Wildlife Over Cities & Farms

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) sent the following letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), urging the SWRCB to reconsider key components of its Bay-Delta Plan Update for the Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta. The SWRCB’s plan calls for 40% of unimpaired flows, which will result in significant reductions in available water.

The Bureau’s letter says, in part: “…The Board amendments essentially elevate the [New Melones] Project’s fish and wildlife purposes over the Project’s irrigation and domestic purposes contrary to the prioritization scheme carefully established by Congress.”

The full letter, as well as the Bureau’s technical comments, are below:

BOR_Letter_Bay_Delta_Plan

BBID Issues Letter to State Water Board on Landmark Water Rights Case

In a concerted effort to fairly and efficiently resolve a landmark water rights case, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) on Tuesday issued the below letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

The letter references ongoing litigation that BBID and other petitioners are engaged in against the SWRCB in Santa Clara County.

Read more about the case here. More coverage is here. The full letter is below.

SWRCB_Marcus_072418

District Honored with Historical Declaration for Protecting Water Rights

Byron, CA (May 30, 2018) – On Wednesday, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) officially recognized the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) for its commitment to protect the oldest water rights in California. Rep. Denham presented District leaders with a plaque commemorating a passage the Congressman read into the Congressional Record, the official historical record of the United States Congress.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) presents the BBID Board of Directors with a plaque commemorating remarks read into the Congressional Record.

In those remarks read on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Denham congratulated BBID for receiving the Association of California Water Agencies’ 2017 Excellence in Water Leadership Award. He also recognized the District’s “bold actions in defendingthe water rights of the farming communities within their area of service.”

In 2016, BBID prevailed before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which sought enforcement against the District for allegedly diverting water when none was available under its priority of right, and alleging a potential $5 million fine. BBID’s legal team argued that careful analysis of the prosecution team’s evidence proved the SWRCB was ultimately incorrect. The SWRCB eventually dismissed the complaint, citing the prosecution team’s failure to prove its case.

“There are not too many irrigation districts that are willing to take on the state, and certainly the few that did have not won,” Rep. Denham said at Wednesday’s ceremony. “The fact that you took them on – and the fact that you won – not only made sure that our water rights are held dear to us, but I think it tells the State we’re a force to be reckoned with. I was very proud to tell my colleagues in Washington, D.C. about the good work you’re doing here, and that you took the fight on and won the fight.”

Rep. Denham was joined by BBID’s Board of Directors and District staff. Several of the District’s growers were in the audience, as well.

“We are humbled,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “To receive formal recognition from Congressman Denham, as well as having our efforts read into the Congressional Record, is a tremendous honor.”

From left, BBID Director Jeff Brown, Rep. Jeff Denham, BBID GM Rick Gilmore, BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro, and BBID Directors Larry Enos, Jr., and Chuck Tuso pose with the Congressional Record plaque.

Watch a video of the ceremony:

Rep. Denham’s full remarks read into the Congressional Record are below:

Mr. DENHAM: “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize and congratulate Byron-Bethany Irrigation District for being awarded the Association of California Water Agencies’ 2017 Excellence in Water Leaders Award. Byron-Bethany Irrigation District serves crucial farming communities in California’s Central Valley including the city of Tracy, which is located in my district. The water they distribute allows their customers to cultivate successful farmland that both promotes a successful economy and feeds the world.

This award is in recognition of BBID’s bold actions in defending the water rights of the farming communities within their area of service. In the face of the California drought, the State Water Resources Control Board issued curtailment orders for the local community that would drastically affect the crucial farmland that BBID serves.

The District General Manager, Rick Gilmore, and the district’s seven-member Board of Directors launched an effective legal effort to protect the water rights of local farming communities. They argued that the state’s analysis of available water was inaccurate. The state’s dismissal of the case against BBID in 2016 was a victory for small farming districts, and cemented the water rights that serve as a foundation for BBID’s community.

The Excellence in Water Leaders Award is presented annually by the Association of California Water Agencies to an individual or group that has made a visible contribution to California water. ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies and their members are responsible for about 90% of water delivered in California. ACWA’s recognition of Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s impact on the water rights for small farming communities is an immense honor. Mr. Speaker, please join me in honoring and commending the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District for receiving this impressive award and for their exuberance and dedication to our local farming communities within California’s Central Valley.”