BBID-Backed Water Reform Bill Passes Assembly

Sacramento, CA (May 30, 2017) – On Tuesday, the California State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a major water bill backed by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). Assembly Bill 313, introduced earlier this year by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) to reestablish balance and fairness for California’s water rights holders, was passed with a 64-4 vote. BBID provided technical support in crafting the bill, which makes significant repairs to California’s broken water management structure.

“Assemblyman Gray’s visionary leadership brought this critical, statewide issue to the forefront – and today’s decisive action signals that lawmakers agree it’s time to fix our broken system,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “State agencies shouldn’t have unchecked power and little accountability, preventing water rights holders from being treated with the foundational fairness our justice system promises one and all. AB 313 balances the scales.”

The bill establishes a new water rights management structure, creating a new Water Rights Division in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to handle all water rights matters. Currently, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) exercises near-comprehensive control over California’s water rights. The SWRCB writes regulations, initiates enforcement actions, and conducts hearings in its own courtroom in which Board staff act as the prosecution and Board members act as judge and jury.

“As BBID itself has experienced, that structure’s built-in conflicts of interest and biases result in an unfair process,” Gilmore said.

Under AB 313, all quasi-adjudicative matters involving water rights would be decided upon by administrative law judges in the new Water Rights Division, which would conduct hearings neutrally. The bill ensures all hearings regarding the issuance of administrative civil liability (ACL) and cease-and- desist orders (CDO) involving water rights are to be held in the new Water Rights Division, rather than the SWRCB. This productive transfer of power eliminates any potential duplicative efforts for any similar hearings and responsibility to fall under the SWRCB.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, AB 313 previously passed out of the Assembly policy and fiscal committees without a single “no” vote. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will be considered in the coming weeks.

“This is a big step in the right direction for California water,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “Should this bill become law, communities across the state will have a more secure water supply.”

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.”

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.”

Landmark Water Rights Case Moves Forward

Santa Clara, CA (September 30, 2016) – A historic case brought to protect some of the oldest water rights in California is moving forward. In Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday, September 30th, Judge Peter Kirwan ruled that there is sufficient legal cause for the case to proceed.

The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) filed the action last June, challenging the unlawful curtailment notices sent to pre-1914 water rights holders, including BBID, by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The unprecedented notices sought to prevent senior water rights holders from lawfully exercising their water rights.

“We are pleased with Judge Kirwan’s decision,”said BBID General Counsel Michael Vergara.“It reflects the gravity and complexity of this case, and refuse s to allow the SWRCB to escape its illegitimate decision to carelessly threaten the livelihood of people and businesses that depend on water from BBID and similarly situated water right holders.”

BBID recently prevailed in a separate administrative hearing before the SWRCB, which brought an enforcement action accusing the District of diverting water when none was available, threatening a $5 million fine. BBID’s legal team argued that careful analysis of the data proved the SWRCB was ultimately incorrect. In June, the SWRCB dismissed its complaint, citing the prosecution team’s failure to prove its case. The action before the Superior Court in Santa Clara was filed by BBID before those proceedings began, and has since been amended to reflect the outcome.

In addition to attempting to bring clarity to – and protect – senior water rights in California, BBID is also seeking to recover its costs of purchasing additional water last year, as well as recover substantial legal fees and other costs associated with the SWRCB’s enforcement action.

SWRCB attorneys argued in court Friday to have the case thrown out, but the judge disagreed. In a procedural ruling, the judge also opted to allow the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 public water providers, to become a party in the case.

Meanwhile, BBID has a separate action pending in Sacramento County Superior Court, challenging the SWRCB’s improper assertion of jurisdiction over pre -1914 water rights, as set forth in its dismissal of the enforcement action.

“Grappling with these complex legal issues is part of our duty to protect the water rights that provide the very foundation for our communities,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “These cases have real impacts for not only the multi-generational family farmers in our district, but for senior water rights holders across the state.”

Read the Joint Case Management Conference Statement here.