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.”
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.”