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!

State Water Board Curtailment Notice Threatens Thousands of Acres, Jobs

Byron, CA (June 7, 2016) – Byron-Bethany Irrigation District General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement in response to the State Water Resources Control Board’s Curtailment Notice of June 12, 2015:

“In addition to the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) suffering back to back years of “zero water supply” from the Bureau of Reclamation for BBID’s Central Valley Project Service Area, the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) curtailment notice received today will have a devastating impact on the remaining customers of BBID, which holds water rights dating from over a century ago. As a steward of our great state’s resources, we understand the seriousness of the historic drought that is affecting California. However, this curtailment order will be extremely destructive to the customers we serve including nearly 160 farmers, 15,000 residents of the Mountain House community, and the energy projects in the area, all of which are essential to our community’s vitality.

The additional loss of water will destroy thousands of acres of crops and eliminate thousands of jobs, which will likely result in the irreparable loss of vibrant communities. Without water, our area will lose nearly 10,000 acres of almonds, cherries, sweet corn, grapes, tomatoes, walnuts, alfalfa and more. By this action, the SWRCB is taking away our ability to provide our customers with a safe, reliable water supply – a resource essential to life; particularly to the agricultural communities we serve.

In order to protect our customers and the crops in our service area, we will pursue relief from the SWRCB’s curtailment notice in Superior Court. We will vigorously defend our rights and will insist on due process and full consideration of factors that have not been adequately taken into account. We are optimistic that the Court will uphold our Constitutional rights, and the restriction on our diversion of water will be lifted before it has had a shattering impact on the communities we serve.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Responds to State’s Proposed $1.5 Million Penalty

Tracy, CA (July 20, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) received notice today of a draft Administrative Civil Liability Complaint. The complaint, issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), proposes to penalize BBID in the amount of $1.5 million for exercising its senior water rights.

This unprecedented retaliatory action subjects the District to severe drought-related penalties, and furthers the devastating impacts to local farmers and ranchers.

“The State Board is choosing to make an arbitrary example out of BBID at the expense of our customers and the communities their hard work supports,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “BBID will vigorously defend its rights to water and due process. The landowners and others that rely upon BBID’s senior water rights deserve no less.”

BBID is one of a handful of agencies that had challenged the SWRCB’s unlawful June 12, 2015 curtailment of water rights (Curtailment Notice). BBID challenged the SWRCB in a lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County on June 26, 2015. In that lawsuit, BBID seeks substantial damages from the SWRCB for unlawfully taking BBID’s water rights as well as for the consequential harm resulting to landowners within BBID’s service area.

BBID has yet to have its day in court because the SWRCB has filed a procedural motion with the Contra Costa Superior Court divesting the court of jurisdiction to hear any requests for relief by BBID. The SWRCB has not only deprived BBID of due process protections and its rights to divert water by issuance of the Curtailment Notice, but also by filing motions that deprive any court of providing BBID with any relief until the case gets referred to a “neutral” county.

The SWRCB’s Curtailment Notice, press releases, and all other communications clearly articulate that the SWRCB has pre-determined, without any evidentiary support, that there is no water available for BBID under its water rights.

“This matter requires an impartial judge in order to achieve a fair resolution,” said Daniel Kelly, BBID’s general counsel. “The administrative body that issued the complaint cannot be expected to fairly evaluate the merits of the claim itself. The State Board’s action makes a mess of a very serious situation with very severe consequences.”

BBID will request a hearing before the SWRCB and also request that whatever Court eventually hears the underlying cases also hear the enforcement action.

BBID looks forward to the opportunity to cross examine SWRCB witnesses regarding the specific facts related to BBID’s diversions, the supposed unavailability of water at BBID’s point of diversion, and the role the SWRCB’s exceptions and waivers of enforcement played in the availability of water for BBID.

“We are confident that, through the appropriate civil discovery processes, BBID will establish that the SWRCB has been less than candid in the representations it has made about the Curtailment Notices and BBID’s lawful exercise of its water rights,” Kelly added.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Applauds Court Ruling Negating Curtailment Notices

Byron, CA (July 11, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) continues to battle over a “notice of curtailment” sent by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), given with the intent to strip century-old water rights from family farms and farming based communities. In a recent court decision Friday, July 10, in Sacramento County, curtailment notices sent to West Side Irrigation District were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang. This ruling demonstrates that the State’s dramatic, over-reaching curtailment actions for all impacted districts, including BBID, are not only inappropriate and dangerous, but also illegal.

On Friday, Judge Chang issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that blocks the enforcement of the curtailment notice, citing that the notices “result in a taking of petitioners’ property rights without a pre-deprivation hearing.” While the order is specific to the West Side Irrigation District, the Superior Court ruling and TRO have significant relevance to the court action waged by BBID to halt similar curtailment notices.

“The water right holders are absolutely vindicated by this ruling, which soundly rejects the coercive attempts by the SWRCB to curtail senior rights without a sound basis for doing so. The Court appropriately rejected the Attorney General’s failed attempts to backtrack on the Notices,” says Daniel Kelly, General Counsel for BBID. Attorneys in the West Side Irrigation District case stated that as a result of the ruling, “all curtailments sent to water users are now equally unconstitutional.” A total of 9,329 water rights have been cut off so far this year, according to the state.

“The implication of the Sacramento ruling is clear as it pertains to our case,” says Russell Kagehiro, BBID Board President. “Our position all along is that these curtailment notices were illegal, and sent without due process for water rights holders. We are very encouraged by the ruling and what it might mean in our continuing legal action.”

Access to water diversion for farming purposes in the BBID service area was established in the early 1900s and has been the lifeblood of the community and family farms here. The curtailment notice is nothing short of catastrophic. If enforced, the curtailment notice will strangle family farms, kill vital crops, compromise livestock, raise consumer prices, eliminate thousands of jobs, and ultimately destroy the ability to farm the land.

The deleterious effects of the illegal notices could have a significant impact on California’s recovering economy.

“We serve 160-plus farming families through our service area,” says Rick Gilmore, General Manager of BBID. “The crops they grow feed not only California, but truly the entire nation. If enforced, the curtailment notice would devastate these families, and raise prices on all sorts of produce throughout the country. Hopefully we will see similar rulings in our case, the law is clear: these notices are simply unconstitutional.”

BBID provides water for literally thousands of acres of rich farmland that provide an abundant harvest of corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, grapes, cherries, walnuts and more, plus ample ranch land. Farmers and ranchers are some of the best defenders of natural resources here in California, and should not be targeted by the state Water Board as a group to be punished.

BBID continues to assess the issue of water availability and is currently not diverting water under its pre-1914 appropriative water rights. This most recent court ruling echoes BBID’s position and the Board feels confident a similar conclusion will result from current legal action initiated by BBID.

“Whatever the ultimate decision with respect to diversions of water for BBID, we will vigorously defend our water rights for our customers and will seek damages from the SWRCB and State of California, not only for the coercive actions of the SWRCB, but also for the unlawful taking of BBID’s water rights through the issuance of the Notice and threats of enforcement,” added Kelly.

Irrigation District Pursues Legal Action to Retain Water Rights for Hundreds of Local Farmers, Ranchers and Families

Tracy, CA (June 26, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District filed a lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court today demanding that the “notice of curtailment” BBID received June 12, 2015 be rescinded immediately and seeks damages from the State for the devastating impacts of the State Water Resources Control Board’s order to cease diversions.

The notice of curtailment, which was issued by the State Water Resources Control Board, intends to strip century-old water rights from family farms and ranches and the communities that depend upon them in order to contend with the state’s drought emergency. The curtailment notice also impacts the community of Mountain House, whose 12,000 residents rely solely on BBID for their water supply. While BBID is dedicated to helping conserve water during this time of drought, the district contends that the state’s dramatic and overreaching action is inappropriate, dangerous and illegal.

“Enough is enough,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “The more than 160 agricultural customers we represent provide food for Californians and the entire United States. The State Water Board has chosen a path that will force farmers and ranchers to defend rights as old as California itself. It is irresponsible and unnecessary. We will fight to ensure that water rights are protected, so families and farms can continue to grow and provide for the state and the nation, and to keep agriculturally-based families and communities from drying up at the whim of the state.”

Access to water diversion for farming purposes in this area was established in the early 1900s, and has served as the lifeblood of local communities and family farms. The curtailment notice is nothing short of catastrophic. It will strangle family farms, kill vital crops, compromise thousands of livestock, raise consumer prices, destroy thousands of jobs, and ultimately eliminate the ability to farm the land. Reducing water flow to these farmers and ranchers will impact the economy throughout California, and potentially across the country.

“The state has failed to demonstrate that it has the jurisdiction to curtail pre-1914 water rights in the manner it has chosen this year,” says BBID General Counsel Daniel Kelly. “BBID is pursuing all legal avenues available to gain relief from the curtailment notice and to ensure that the flow of water is uninterrupted. These farming communities are vital to California’s economy and to our country’s food supply. We are optimistic that the Court will uphold our century-old water rights and our Constitutional rights, lifting the restriction on our diversion of water before our farmers and the communities we serve realize the devastating impact of the State Water Board’s action.””

Thousands of acres of rich land served by BBID provide an abundant harvest of corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, grapes, cherries, walnuts and more, as well as an enormous number of livestock. All of this feeds not just Californians, but people across the nation. The impact of the curtailment notice will have a significant ripple effect for the agrarian economy, from which these communities will likely never fully recover.

“The potential damages to the region are practically immeasurable,” says Rick Gilmore, BBID General Manager. “It is crucial that water continues to flow unabated to our customers and our communities. Our best estimates have the future damages in the millions in terms of crop damage, job loss to farmers, packers and ranchers, and a completely unknown domino effect that will impact that region for years to come.”

“Farmers are, by nature, stewards of natural resources,” added Gilmore. “In California in particular, farmers have been producing more while using less in the way of water and other natural resources for decades. In truth, farmers are some of the best defenders of natural resources here in California, not a group to be punished.”

Read the full court document here.

Indemnification Agreement Reached Between BBID, Mountain House Community Services District

Byron, CA (June 7, 2016) – Byron-Bethany Irrigation District General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement:

“Today an indemnification agreement was reached in principle between Byron-Bethany Irrigation District and Mountain House Community Services District. The agreement will allow water to keep flowing to the Mountain House community by ensuring that Mountain House will accept financial responsibility for any fines or penalties associated with the provision of their water while the state-ordered curtailments remain in place. Without this agreement, BBID would have been forced to shut off water to Mountain House at 12:01am Tuesday, June 23.

While the agreement allows BBID to meet Mountain House’s immediate needs, farmers in the region and the communities that depend upon them still face unprecedented potential impacts to their livelihood as a result of curtailment.”