Court of Appeal: State Water Board Exceeded Authority with 2015 Curtailments

Santa Clara County (September 13, 2022) – On Monday, in a decision certified for publication, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District holds that the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB or State Board) exceeded its enforcement authority when issuing curtailment notices in 2015 to certain pre-1914 water right holders, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

In its ruling, the court finds that Water Code Section 1052(a) does not provide the State Board authority to “curtail an entire class of pre-1914 appropriative water rights solely on the basis that the Board believes that there will be insufficient water to serve all pre-1914 appropriative rights.” The ruling continues, “For these reasons, we agree with the trial court’s conclusion that the Board lacked authority under section 1052(a) to issue the 2015 curtailment notices to respondents.”

The case is related to a 2015 enforcement action commenced by the SWRCB against BBID shortly after BBID sued the SWRCB over unlawful curtailment notices issued by the SWRCB to more than a thousand pre-1914 water rights holders, including BBID. Over BBID’s objection, the Santa Clara Court stayed BBID’s lawsuit pending completion of the administrative hearing of the SWRCB’s enforcement action.

The SWRCB’s enforcement action sought enforcement of the curtailment notices against BBID for diverting water when allegedly none was available under its priority of right, and the SWRCB sought a $5 million fine. On the third day of the administrative hearing before the SWRCB Hearing Team, BBID’s legal team successfully argued that the evidence submitted by the SWRCB Prosecution Team failed to meet its burden of proof, and the SWRCB Hearing Team granted BBID’s motion for judgment dismissing the enforcement action.

After the dismissal of the enforcement action, BBID resumed the related lawsuit, and on April 3, 2018, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Brian Walsh issued his Statement of Decision holding, among other things, that the SWRCB lacks jurisdiction under Water Code §1052 to take enforcement action against  pre-1914 water right holders based on a general lack of available water under their priority of right. Judge Walsh also held that the curtailment notices violated BBID’s due process rights because they commanded immediate curtailment of water rights and threatened large fines without providing water right holders an opportunity to challenge the findings upon prior to enforcement.

“This ruling helps safeguard senior water rights in California,” said acting BBID General Manager Kelley Geyer. “It confirms that the authority of the State Water Resources Control Board is limited to that which the Legislature granted it, nothing more. Senior water rights are the foundations of urban and rural communities throughout the state,” Geyer continued. “They are also the backbone of reliable agricultural water deliveries that support cultivating our food supply – in California, the nation, and the world. Byron-Bethany Irrigation District believes protecting its pre-1914 senior water right on behalf of the multi-generational family growers and ranchers we serve is its primary responsibility, as well as providing the community of Mountain House with its principal water supply.”

BBID Argues Court of Appeals Should Uphold Landmark Water Rights Decision

In the CA 6th District Court of Appeal, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is urging the court to uphold a landmark decision solidifying the oldest water rights in California. Attorneys on behalf of BBID responded to an appeal filed by the State Water Resources Control Board, saying in part:

The Legislature never provided the State Board with the authority it now seeks from this Court. That is, the Legislature did not authorize the State Board to use trespass under Section 1052 as a means to preclude (i.e., curtail) Senior Right holders from diverting water within the scope of their rights, regardless of times of water shortage or surplus. To the contrary, the Legislature has been careful not to extend the right to regulate Senior Rights to the State Board, consistent with the fact that Senior Rights pre- date the State Board’s existence and authority. In addition, no court has interpreted the State Board’s other statutory authority to allow for such curtailment. Through this appeal, though, the State Board asks this Court to legislate from the bench, expanding its authority to curtail Senior Right holders in a manner that the Legislature has repeatedly not granted through the various amendments to Section 1052.

The trial court accurately concluded that the State Board did not have authority to curtail Respondents’ diversions of water under their valid Senior Rights, and this Court should affirm the trial court’s judgments regarding the State Board’s jurisdiction under Section 1052.

Background: The ongoing case is related to a 2015 enforcement action brought by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) against BBID shortly after BBID sued the SWRCB over unlawful curtailment notices issued by the SWRCB to more than a thousand pre-1914 water rights holders, including BBID. Over BBID’s objection, the Santa Clara Court stayed BBID’s lawsuit pending completion of the administrative hearing of the SWRCB’s enforcement action.

The SWRCB’s enforcement action sought enforcement of the curtailment notices against BBID for diverting water when allegedly none was available under its priority of right, and seeking a $5 million fine. On the third day of the administrative hearing before the SWRCB, BBID’s legal team successfully argued that the evidence submitted by the SWRCB litigation team failed to meet its burden of proof, and the SWRCB hearing officer granted BBID’s motion for judgment dismissing the enforcement action.

After the dismissal of the enforcement action, BBID resumed its related lawsuit, and on April 3, 2018, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Brian Walsh issued his Statement of Decision holding, among other things, that the SWRCB lacks jurisdiction to enforce priority of rights between pre-1914 and riparian water rights. The Court’s ruling solidifies the oldest water rights in California. Judge Walsh also held that the curtailment notices violated BBID’s due process rights because they commanded immediate curtailment of water rights and threatened large fines without providing water right holders an opportunity to challenge the findings upon which the notices were based.

BBID Files Petition for Reconsideration in Water Right Curtailments

Sacramento, CA (September 2, 2021) – Today, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) filed a formal Petition for Reconsideration with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), regarding recent water right curtailments impacting thousands of water right holders, including BBID.

The full document is below.

09022021 BBID Petition for Reconsideration of Res 2021-0028 Curtailment Order - FINAL (00116239xD2C75).PDF

BBID Responds to Proposed Water Curtailments

The legal and technical team of Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) prepared the following comment letter in response to recent emergency regulations proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which would cut off senior and riparian water rights, including those that provide reliable water supplies to BBID’s customers.

The full letter is below.

7-29-21 Comments re Emergency Curtailment Regs w-Exh A

BBID Files Petition for Reconsideration on Water Right Curtailments

Sacramento, CA (July 15, 2021) – Today, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) filed a formal Petition for Reconsideration with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

The filing is in response to the post-1914 Water Right Curtailment Notices the SWRCB delivered to post-1914 water right holders, including BBID. The notices impact growers and M&I customers in BBID’s West Side Service Area, formerly the service area of the West Side Irrigation District. The two districts recently consolidated.

The full filing and exhibits are below.

BBID, SLDMWA Express Concern with Proposed Russian River Emergency Regulations

The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID), and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) provided comments to the State Water Resources Control Board, expressing key areas of concern with the State Water Board’s proposed Emergency Regulations on the Russian River.

BBID is a member agency of the Authority, which represents 27 agencies providing water service to approximately 1,200,000 acres of irrigated agriculture, 2 million people, and 130,000 acres of wetlands within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

Read the full letters below.

BBID Identifies Areas of Concern with State Water Board’s Delta Water Unavailability Analysis

In a letter delivered Tuesday to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) identified several concerns with the State Water Board’s revised methodology for determining water unavailability in the Delta Watershed.

The full letter, a collaborative effort involving the District’s team of experts, is below.

BBID Comment Letter

Opposition Letter: AB 3030 “Costly, Confusing, and Likely Contentious State Policy”

On Thursday, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) joined a coalition of water agencies expressing opposition to AB 3030 (Kalra), unless amended.

The bill is related to land and water conservation goals, but would create a costly, confusing, and likely contentious state policy that would fail to promote the collaboration necessary to achieve meaningful conservation in California.

Read the District’s full letter below.

AB 3030 – Oppose Unless Amended