San Jose, CA (February 21, 2018) – In a decision that reaffirms and solidifies the oldest water rights in California, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled Wednesday that the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) lacks jurisdiction to enforce priority of rights between pre-1914 and riparian water rights.
Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) filed the action, challenging unlawful curtailment notices issued by the SWRCB in June 2015 to pre-1914 water rights holders, including BBID. Judge Brian Walsh also determined 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.
“We strongly agree with the Judge’s decision,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “This is a step toward a more equitable, protective process that ensures senior water rights holders across California will be able to rightfully exercise their property rights to the fullest extent of the law.”
In 2016, BBID prevailed in a related administrative hearing before the 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 granted BBID’s motion for judgment dismissing the ACL 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 the administrative proceedings began.
The Santa Clara County Superior Court will now hear Phases Two and Three of the action, including BBID’s takings claim. BBID will pursue recovery of its substantial legal fees and other costs associated with the SWRCB’s enforcement action, totaling millions of dollars.
“Our legal team is currently reviewing the ruling and its implications in greater detail,” Gilmore said. “We are hopeful that the decision generates momentum for positive change and brings renewed clarity to a complex, but critical arena. We remain committed to seeking collaborative, substantive solutions that provide fairness and due process for California’s water rights holders, on behalf of the communities that rely upon the foundation of reliable water.”