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.”