Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Honored with Statewide Water Award

Monterey, CA (May 10, 2017) – In recognition of its victorious, high-stakes stand to protect some of the oldest water rights in California, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) was honored Wednesday with the 2017 ACWA (Association of California Water Agencies) Excellence in Water Leadership Award.

According to ACWA, the prestigious annual award recognizes those who make a “remarkable and visible contribution to the enhancement, protection or development of water resources in California.” The award was presented at ACWA’s Spring Conference in Monterey to BBID GM Rick Gilmore, and BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro, who accepted on behalf of BBID’s Board of Directors.

“On behalf of the entire District, we extend our deepest appreciation to ACWA for this incredible recognition,” Kagehiro said. “Our fight was not only for BBID, but for districts statewide, whose water rights provide the backbone of the communities we collectively serve.”

“Providing reliable water is the essence of our mission,” Gilmore said. “Though it wasn’t easy, we had no choice but to take the lead, navigating extreme regulatory uncertainty to defend the water supply that is rightfully ours.”

ACWA President Kathleen Tiegs, left, poses with BBID GM Rick Gilmore, center, and BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro.

Amidst harsh drought in 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued unprecedented curtailments, and subsequently accused BBID of taking water when none was available, threatening a $5-plus million fine. BBID’s legal team fought back to preserve the District’s pre-1914 water rights, disproving the state’s arguments. The SWRCB eventually dismissed the case, securing a victory that would resonate throughout California’s water community.

“Byron-Bethany’s district staff and elected officials understood what was at stake for their community,” said ACWA President Kathleen Tiegs. “Their foresight, leadership and ability to build consensus in the face of extreme challenge kept water flowing for the residents, farmers, agricultural workers and families in their multi-county service area.”

BBID was nominated for the Excellence in Water Leadership Award by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA), a collective of water agencies representing more than 2 million acres of 29 federal and exchange water service contractors.

“California is blessed to have thousands of dedicated water leaders who make our incredible water management system work so well,” said SLDMWA Executive Director Jason Peltier. “When leadership shines through most clearly is in a time of crisis, and Rick and his Board earned this award by leaning forward into the regulatory machine that now controls so much of our system. It took guts and commitment to secure justice. They did it.”

The 2017 Excellence in Water Leadership Award.

Demonstrating BBID’s deep connection to its community, numerous Letters of support were submitted on BBID’s behalf, including one from Gay Costa of the Mountain House School District.

“Mr. Gilmore, the BBID Board, and their staff went into the hearings with the weight of our farmers, ranchers’ community and this school on their shoulders,” Costa wrote. “The students witnessed a pillar of their community stand up for their right to carry on their family business and continue a culture deep in tradition and pride.”

Farmer Mike Sandhu also wrote in support of the District, “Without BBID’s stand, growers could have been stripped of our livelihoods and driven off our land that, for some of us, goes back generations. Their commitment secured our children’s futures. We have the water we need today – and tomorrow – thanks to BBID.”

Another letter was submitted by former BBID counsel and current in-house counsel for Placer County Water Agency, Dan Kelly.

“While, in certain circles, BBID’s decision to challenge the SWRCB’s curtailments was not popular – it was the courageous thing to do,” Kelly wrote. “Leaders are not people who simply fall in line. Leaders are people who make hard decisions; often unpopular, to achieve the right and just result. Rick Gilmore and the BBID Board of Directors did just that.”

As part of the Excellence in Water Leadership Award, BBID will be privileged to present a $5,000 charitable donation to a non-profit organization of their choosing that works toward the enhancement and protection of California’s water resources.

WATCH: Click below to see BBID accept the 2017 ACWA Excellence in Water Leadership Award!

BBID Mourns Loss of Longtime General Manager

Rick Gilmore, age 61, of Stockton, passed away on May 14th, 2023, of natural causes.

Rick was born June 25, 1961 in Paragould, Arkansas, one of two boys, his brother David passed in 1997. He is fondly remembered for his kindness and fierce loyalty, his wry sense of humor and for his willingness to stand up and fight for what he believed in. He is survived by his mother, Shirley Schultz, and nephews, Steven (Liz) Gilmore and Kevin Gilmore.

Rick was as a titan of California’s water industry. His steadfast tenacity and devotion to protect agriculture and multi-generational farmers made a significant, lasting impact not only in the Tracy area, but across the state.

He worked his way up from humble beginnings. In 1983, Rick joined the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) as a ditch tender. Over the years, he rose through the ranks and in 1999 he became BBID’s General Manager. Rick served dutifully in that capacity until March 2022, when he went on a medical leave of absence. Rick was an encyclopedia of knowledge about BBID and could recite, from memory, anything from the intricate details of water policy, to the innerworkings of District facilities, to moments large and small from the District’s 100-plus year history. Rick was also very active in a number of water related organizations such as the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority, and others.

Rick was a beloved, larger-than-life figure in the local community and amongst his colleagues in the water profession. He cared deeply for his family, colleagues and the community BBID serves, and changed countless lives with his incredible energy, generosity, and support. Rick referred to the team of BBID’s consultants simply as “the BBID Family,” and hosted numerous dinners and holiday parties at District Headquarters with his partner, the late Kelley Geyer.

In the midst of historic drought in 2015, Rick was the steady hand that guided the District in its successful challenge of the State Water Board when it curtailed BBID’s water supply. BBID’s unprecedented, resounding victories before the State Water Board and Santa Clara Superior Court strengthened the oldest water rights in California to this day. It would not have been possible without Rick’s, leadership, courage, and intellect – and his belief that BBID would ultimately prevail despite incredible odds and enormous stakes.

That’s the kind of person he was – the kind of person who would see something all the way through, no matter how difficult; no matter how hard he had to work. People like Rick are unique and rare.

A memorial celebrating Rick’s life will be held June 1, 2023. Friends and loved ones are welcome to attend. Additional details are below.

UPDATE: Record Winter Leads to 100% Water Allocation, Delays Start of Irrigation Season

Byron, CA (April 21, 2023) – On the heels of a record-setting winter and a historic Sierra snowpack topping 200% of normal in many locations, the irrigation season in the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) service area is underway. The season began in early April, delayed by wet weather that continued well into spring.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in April issued an updated water supply allocation of 100% for its South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including BBID. The initial allocation was set at 35%, then was increased to 80% in March before the full allocation announcement. Continued snowfall and subsequent runoff this winter boosted Lake Shasta from 59% to 81% of normal, and San Luis Reservoir from 64% to 97%.

It was just one year ago that Reclamation issued an initial 0% allocation for South-of-Delta contractors amid ongoing drought and declining reservoir levels.

“We are grateful for Mother Nature providing much-needed relief for our CVP growers,” said BBID General Manager Edwin Pattison. “Four times in the last decade, South-of-Delta CVP contractors like BBID have received a 0% allocation, putting incredible strain on growers and ranchers in BBID’s CVP service area. Still, we hope that the sudden shift in hydrology does not distract from the very real need for regulatory reform,” Pattison continued.

“If these boom-or-bust weather patterns are our new normal, we must adapt,” said BBID Board President Tim Maggiore. “We must invest in our aging water systems and build new storage to capture water supplies when they’re abundant, for times when they are not.”

The District continues to work with its local, regional and state partners in exploring regulatory solutions that balance the needs of California’s cities, agriculture, and environment.

Additionally, Reclamation increased its allocation for its South-of-Delta Municipal and Industry (M&I) contractors to 100%, including those in the BBID’s service area.

BBID Mourns Loss of Longtime District Leader

Byron, CA (December 6, 2022) – “We regret to share that on Wednesday, November 30th, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District learned that longtime BBID employee Kelley Geyer passed away. The entire BBID family extends their deepest condolences to Kelley’s loved ones during this incredibly difficult time.

After joining the District in 2010, Kelley served as the Director of Administration, Assistant General Manager, and most recently as the Interim General Manager. Kelley was a beloved figure at BBID and in the local community. Her dedication, warmth and authenticity will be greatly missed.

We ask the community to respect the privacy of the Geyer family, and to please keep them in your prayers.” – Tim Maggiore, BBID Board President

Court: State Water Resources Control Board Ordered to Pay Attorneys’ Fees in Landmark Water Rights Case

Santa Clara County (November 20, 2022) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is a step closer to recovering more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees arising from its successful challenge of the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) curtailment orders issued during the 2015 drought.

On Friday, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District (Sixth District Court) ruled that a coalition of California irrigation districts and water agencies (Districts) are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees incurred during the Santa Clara County Superior Court litigation regarding the State Board’s actions in 2015, when it unlawfully issued curtailment notices under Water Code section 1052 to more than a thousand pre-1914 water right holders, including BBID.  The Sixth District Court’s ruling reversed an earlier decision by the trial Court, which denied Districts’ motion for recovering of their attorneys’ fees.

“It has been a long road,” said interim BBID General Manager Ed Pattison. “The District is grateful the Sixth District Court recognized BBID’s right to recover a substantial portion of the expenses it shouldered defending our pre-1914 water rights, which are both the foundation for the communities we serve and the crops grown in our service areas.”

The Sixth District Court’s decision recognizes that the Districts incurred the bulk of their attorneys’ fees after the threat of fines or penalties ceased.  The Sixth District Court concluded: “The Districts bore millions of dollars in attorney fees but realized no direct pecuniary gain as a result of their victory on due process and jurisdictional grounds.” The Sixth District Court determined that “the trial court abused its discretion”, directing the trial court “to award the Districts under section 1021.5 the attorney fees that they incurred for the court litigation.”

Regional Water Storage Project Receives Significant Federal Funding

Contra Costa County (October 18, 2022) – The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it will allocate $82 million for the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, a project that will improve regional water reliability and provide environmental benefits across the Bay Area and Central Valley. The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is participating in this project through its membership with the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA).

“As we face an uncertain future, the District is committed to taking the necessary steps to secure water reliability for our growers,” said acting BBID General Manager Ed Pattison. “Participating in 21st-Century projects like the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir – which is the result of collaboration, innovation and forward thinking – is a significant step toward building long-term drought resilience.”

A total of $210 million of federal water storage funding was allocated to seven projects in the western U.S., under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law approved by Congress in late 2021. The Los Vaqueros Reservoir Project is receiving the largest portion.

“BBID is grateful for the productive partnership between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Vaqueros Joint Powers Authority,” Pattison continued. “This funding will help the project move forward and demonstrates that our federal partners recognize the importance of supporting improved water management for California’s people, its food supply and its environment.”

The project was previously approved for $477 million from California Prop 1 funds and $136 million for construction in federal funding.

When complete, the capacity of Los Vaqueros will be increased from 160,000 acre-feet to 275,000 acre-feet. New and upgraded conveyance facilities will be added to provide comprehensive benefits to water supply reliability and flexibility, the environment, and recreation. Construction is expected to begin next year and continue through 2030.

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 Water Supply Update – August 2022

Byron, CA (August 25, 2022)The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (“BBID” or “District”) has an important update for its customers: as of this posting, the District’s water rights are not curtailed, meaning water deliveries will continue as normal.

Back in July, the State Board approved and adopted a revised Emergency Regulation regarding water use and curtailment in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.  It was anticipated the revised Emergency Regulation would lead to new curtailments reaching BBID’s post-1914 right, serving the West Side Service Area, as well as BBID’s pre-1914 senior water right, serving the Byron and Bethany service areas.

However, BBID’s water rights were not included in a new round of curtailments announced this week. In an update, the State Water Resources Control Board said, in part:

“After consultation with and the concurrence of the Delta Watermaster, and consistent with the technical assumptions regarding water unavailability in the Legal Delta outlined in methodology documents released on June 27, 2022, curtailments remain in place for certain rights within the Legal Delta. Although the methodology indicates that water is unavailable for appropriative water right holders in the Legal Delta with a priority date of 1908 or later, curtailments in the Legal Delta will remain unchanged pending further discussion between the Division of Water Rights and the Office of the Delta Watermaster.”

Earlier in July and in the span of less than one week, the State Board issued, then rescinded curtailment with little notice and no explanation.

Before the State Board rescinded the last curtailment order, BBID’s legal team filed a request for a Temporary Restraining Order, arguing the order was issued without due process and is not supported by adequate evidence. BBID also argues the methodology used by the State Board to determine water unavailability in the Legal Delta is fatally flawed, and cannot support curtailment of BBID’s water rights. Since last summer, and on numerous occasions, the District’s team of legal, engineering, and hydrology experts offered comments and possible solutions to the State Board to refine the methodology and improve its accuracy.  Despite these comments, and those made by other Delta stakeholders, significant problems remain with the methodology and it remains unsuitable for determination of curtailments in the Delta.

As this evolving situation unfolds, the District will continue providing regular updates to ensure customers are informed. In the meantime, BBID continues to secure alternative water supplies and vigorously defend its water rights.