Northern California Water Districts Gather to Celebrate Success of Emergency Water Project

Byron, CA (August 25, 2015) – On August 25, 2015, nearly 100 employees, board members and neighbors gathered at Byron-Bethany Irrigation District to honor the heroic measures taken by the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority several weeks ago when the organization literally changed the direction of the Delta-Mendota Canal for the first time in history. The emergency “Pump Back Program” was a desperate drought project – the first of its kind designed to keep six area water districts from going dry.

“Our team accomplished the impossible,” says Frances Mizuno, Assistant Executive Director of San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which operates the canal. “Moving water in the opposite direction while facing daunting time constraints was nothing short of amazing. This team is to be applauded for their tenacity and hard work.”

The $700,000 project was led by Engineering Director Bob Martin and involved the installation of several massive pumps in three locations over a six-week period between May and July. The project allowed canal water to be lifted 18 feet along 62 miles from the San Luis Reservoir to the City of Tracy. The result was more than 80,000 acre-feet of banked water in the San Luis Reservoir to get the water agencies through the summer. The districts include the Del Puerto Water District, the West Stanislaus Irrigation District, the Patterson Irrigation District, the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District and the City of Tracy.

“This quick thinking and unconventional solution brought a real success story in our region during an otherwise extremely dire period,” says Rick Gilmore, General Manager of Byron-Bethany Irrigation District. “Recent actions by the State Water Board have meant that we simply do not have the water we need to meet the needs of our customers. We are grateful to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority for providing our farmers and ranchers with a lifeline.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Responds to State’s Proposed $1.5 Million Penalty

Tracy, CA (July 20, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) received notice today of a draft Administrative Civil Liability Complaint. The complaint, issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), proposes to penalize BBID in the amount of $1.5 million for exercising its senior water rights.

This unprecedented retaliatory action subjects the District to severe drought-related penalties, and furthers the devastating impacts to local farmers and ranchers.

“The State Board is choosing to make an arbitrary example out of BBID at the expense of our customers and the communities their hard work supports,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “BBID will vigorously defend its rights to water and due process. The landowners and others that rely upon BBID’s senior water rights deserve no less.”

BBID is one of a handful of agencies that had challenged the SWRCB’s unlawful June 12, 2015 curtailment of water rights (Curtailment Notice). BBID challenged the SWRCB in a lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County on June 26, 2015. In that lawsuit, BBID seeks substantial damages from the SWRCB for unlawfully taking BBID’s water rights as well as for the consequential harm resulting to landowners within BBID’s service area.

BBID has yet to have its day in court because the SWRCB has filed a procedural motion with the Contra Costa Superior Court divesting the court of jurisdiction to hear any requests for relief by BBID. The SWRCB has not only deprived BBID of due process protections and its rights to divert water by issuance of the Curtailment Notice, but also by filing motions that deprive any court of providing BBID with any relief until the case gets referred to a “neutral” county.

The SWRCB’s Curtailment Notice, press releases, and all other communications clearly articulate that the SWRCB has pre-determined, without any evidentiary support, that there is no water available for BBID under its water rights.

“This matter requires an impartial judge in order to achieve a fair resolution,” said Daniel Kelly, BBID’s general counsel. “The administrative body that issued the complaint cannot be expected to fairly evaluate the merits of the claim itself. The State Board’s action makes a mess of a very serious situation with very severe consequences.”

BBID will request a hearing before the SWRCB and also request that whatever Court eventually hears the underlying cases also hear the enforcement action.

BBID looks forward to the opportunity to cross examine SWRCB witnesses regarding the specific facts related to BBID’s diversions, the supposed unavailability of water at BBID’s point of diversion, and the role the SWRCB’s exceptions and waivers of enforcement played in the availability of water for BBID.

“We are confident that, through the appropriate civil discovery processes, BBID will establish that the SWRCB has been less than candid in the representations it has made about the Curtailment Notices and BBID’s lawful exercise of its water rights,” Kelly added.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Applauds Court Ruling Negating Curtailment Notices

Byron, CA (July 11, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) continues to battle over a “notice of curtailment” sent by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), given with the intent to strip century-old water rights from family farms and farming based communities. In a recent court decision Friday, July 10, in Sacramento County, curtailment notices sent to West Side Irrigation District were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang. This ruling demonstrates that the State’s dramatic, over-reaching curtailment actions for all impacted districts, including BBID, are not only inappropriate and dangerous, but also illegal.

On Friday, Judge Chang issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that blocks the enforcement of the curtailment notice, citing that the notices “result in a taking of petitioners’ property rights without a pre-deprivation hearing.” While the order is specific to the West Side Irrigation District, the Superior Court ruling and TRO have significant relevance to the court action waged by BBID to halt similar curtailment notices.

“The water right holders are absolutely vindicated by this ruling, which soundly rejects the coercive attempts by the SWRCB to curtail senior rights without a sound basis for doing so. The Court appropriately rejected the Attorney General’s failed attempts to backtrack on the Notices,” says Daniel Kelly, General Counsel for BBID. Attorneys in the West Side Irrigation District case stated that as a result of the ruling, “all curtailments sent to water users are now equally unconstitutional.” A total of 9,329 water rights have been cut off so far this year, according to the state.

“The implication of the Sacramento ruling is clear as it pertains to our case,” says Russell Kagehiro, BBID Board President. “Our position all along is that these curtailment notices were illegal, and sent without due process for water rights holders. We are very encouraged by the ruling and what it might mean in our continuing legal action.”

Access to water diversion for farming purposes in the BBID service area was established in the early 1900s and has been the lifeblood of the community and family farms here. The curtailment notice is nothing short of catastrophic. If enforced, the curtailment notice will strangle family farms, kill vital crops, compromise livestock, raise consumer prices, eliminate thousands of jobs, and ultimately destroy the ability to farm the land.

The deleterious effects of the illegal notices could have a significant impact on California’s recovering economy.

“We serve 160-plus farming families through our service area,” says Rick Gilmore, General Manager of BBID. “The crops they grow feed not only California, but truly the entire nation. If enforced, the curtailment notice would devastate these families, and raise prices on all sorts of produce throughout the country. Hopefully we will see similar rulings in our case, the law is clear: these notices are simply unconstitutional.”

BBID provides water for literally thousands of acres of rich farmland that provide an abundant harvest of corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, grapes, cherries, walnuts and more, plus ample ranch land. Farmers and ranchers are some of the best defenders of natural resources here in California, and should not be targeted by the state Water Board as a group to be punished.

BBID continues to assess the issue of water availability and is currently not diverting water under its pre-1914 appropriative water rights. This most recent court ruling echoes BBID’s position and the Board feels confident a similar conclusion will result from current legal action initiated by BBID.

“Whatever the ultimate decision with respect to diversions of water for BBID, we will vigorously defend our water rights for our customers and will seek damages from the SWRCB and State of California, not only for the coercive actions of the SWRCB, but also for the unlawful taking of BBID’s water rights through the issuance of the Notice and threats of enforcement,” added Kelly.

Irrigation District Pursues Legal Action to Retain Water Rights for Hundreds of Local Farmers, Ranchers and Families

Tracy, CA (June 26, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District filed a lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court today demanding that the “notice of curtailment” BBID received June 12, 2015 be rescinded immediately and seeks damages from the State for the devastating impacts of the State Water Resources Control Board’s order to cease diversions.

The notice of curtailment, which was issued by the State Water Resources Control Board, intends to strip century-old water rights from family farms and ranches and the communities that depend upon them in order to contend with the state’s drought emergency. The curtailment notice also impacts the community of Mountain House, whose 12,000 residents rely solely on BBID for their water supply. While BBID is dedicated to helping conserve water during this time of drought, the district contends that the state’s dramatic and overreaching action is inappropriate, dangerous and illegal.

“Enough is enough,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “The more than 160 agricultural customers we represent provide food for Californians and the entire United States. The State Water Board has chosen a path that will force farmers and ranchers to defend rights as old as California itself. It is irresponsible and unnecessary. We will fight to ensure that water rights are protected, so families and farms can continue to grow and provide for the state and the nation, and to keep agriculturally-based families and communities from drying up at the whim of the state.”

Access to water diversion for farming purposes in this area was established in the early 1900s, and has served as the lifeblood of local communities and family farms. The curtailment notice is nothing short of catastrophic. It will strangle family farms, kill vital crops, compromise thousands of livestock, raise consumer prices, destroy thousands of jobs, and ultimately eliminate the ability to farm the land. Reducing water flow to these farmers and ranchers will impact the economy throughout California, and potentially across the country.

“The state has failed to demonstrate that it has the jurisdiction to curtail pre-1914 water rights in the manner it has chosen this year,” says BBID General Counsel Daniel Kelly. “BBID is pursuing all legal avenues available to gain relief from the curtailment notice and to ensure that the flow of water is uninterrupted. These farming communities are vital to California’s economy and to our country’s food supply. We are optimistic that the Court will uphold our century-old water rights and our Constitutional rights, lifting the restriction on our diversion of water before our farmers and the communities we serve realize the devastating impact of the State Water Board’s action.””

Thousands of acres of rich land served by BBID provide an abundant harvest of corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, grapes, cherries, walnuts and more, as well as an enormous number of livestock. All of this feeds not just Californians, but people across the nation. The impact of the curtailment notice will have a significant ripple effect for the agrarian economy, from which these communities will likely never fully recover.

“The potential damages to the region are practically immeasurable,” says Rick Gilmore, BBID General Manager. “It is crucial that water continues to flow unabated to our customers and our communities. Our best estimates have the future damages in the millions in terms of crop damage, job loss to farmers, packers and ranchers, and a completely unknown domino effect that will impact that region for years to come.”

“Farmers are, by nature, stewards of natural resources,” added Gilmore. “In California in particular, farmers have been producing more while using less in the way of water and other natural resources for decades. In truth, farmers are some of the best defenders of natural resources here in California, not a group to be punished.”

Read the full court document here.