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.”

BBID Water Supply Update – July 2022

Byron, CA (July 25, 2022)Due to recent State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) actions, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (“BBID” or “District”) is advising its customers of potential future curtailment of the District’s water rights, which may come this summer.

At its regular July meeting, the State Board approved and adopted a revised Emergency Regulation regarding water use and curtailment in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.  The revised Emergency Regulation will now be considered by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) before it becomes law. If enacted, the revised Emergency Regulation will likely lead to another, deeper round of curtailments in mid-August.  We anticipate such 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.

Earlier this month 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 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.

The District’s TRO is still pending before a Sacramento County Superior Court, and the hearing on it is scheduled for next week—July 29.  If the judge grants BBID’s request, future curtailments this summer are unlikely.  This, however, depends on the relief the judge provides.  The District commits to providing additional updates with any developments in this rapidly evolving situation.

In the meantime, BBID continues to secure alternative water supplies and vigorously defending its water rights.

State Shuts Off Water, Putting Crops in Peril

Byron, CA (July 7, 2022) The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) ordered Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) to shut off its pumps and halt water deliveries at the peak of the growing season. After 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, and with less than 24-hour notice, the Board abruptly curtailed BBID’s senior water rights, effective Thursday.

The move comes one month after the Board advised Delta diverters, including BBID, that pre-1914 and post-1914 (without Term 91) water right holders in the Legal Delta would not be curtailed this year.

“The State Water Board pulled a 180, reversing course without warning,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “On behalf of our growers, we’re incredibly disappointed that we were misled into believing the District’s pre-1914 water right would not be curtailed. Thousands of acres of crops in our service area – some just days away from harvest – are now at risk of rotting in the fields.”

In addition, BBID provides the sole source of water to Mountain House, a growing community of more than 28,000 people near the City of Tracy.

“The Board’s hasty, unannounced and contrary action now puts Mountain House in an extremely difficult position,” Kagehiro continued. “We urge the Board to immediately approve Mountain House’s petition for a human health and safety exemption so we can continue, at the very least, providing water supplies to serve thousands of families.”

The post-1914 water right serving BBID’s West Side Service Area is included in the curtailment.  In a proactive move, the District’s Board of Directors previously ratified a 50% water delivery schedule effective in July, conserving available water supplies. The West Side Service Area receives supplemental water supply from the City of Tracy.

In anticipation of possible curtailment, BBID has sought additional water supplies, including potential water transfers and the use of groundwater wells within the District’s service area. The District will continue to rely on its pre-existing alternate supplies while continuing to look for more.

Furthermore, BBID’s team of legal, engineering, and hydrology experts will mobilize to protect the District’s water rights, as well as address significant flaws in the methodology used by the Board to determine curtailments in the Delta.

“We will leave no stone unturned,” Kagehiro said. “Crops and livelihoods are at stake.”

BBID Water Supply Update – June 2022

Byron, CA (June 15, 2022)The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) has an important water supply update for its customers. On June 7, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Water Rights issued an update earlier this month advising that, witha the exception of junior water rights with Term-91, water rights in the Legal Delta will not be curtailed.  Specifically, the notice states in pertinent part the following:

  1. No curtailment of rights and claims within the Legal Delta. In coordination with the Office of the Delta Watermaster, Division of Water Rights staff are in the process of updating several technical assumptions regarding water unavailability within the Legal Delta. Pending completion of those updates, rights and claims within the Legal Delta will not be curtailed pursuant to the Drought Emergency Regulation.  Term 91 curtailments will continue to apply to rights within the Legal Delta containing Term 91.  (Bold in the original.)

All BBID water rights, including the pre-1914 water right that provides for much of the District’s service area, are in the Legal Delta.  The post-1914 water right now held by BBID (formerly, the West Side Irrigation post-1914 water right) does not contain Term 91.

BBID’s team of legal, engineering, and hydrology experts continue to work with Board staff to resolve latent defects with the Water Unavailability Methodology for the Delta Watershed used by the Board to determine water unavailability in the Legal Delta.

West Side Service Area: This area, formerly the West Side Irrigation District, is served by a post-1914 junior water right. This water right is currently not curtailed. However, to be prudent and in anticipation of possible curtailments, the BBID Board of Directors ratified a 50% water delivery schedule for the West Side Service Area, effective July.

Central Valley Project (CVP) Service Area: Currently, South-of-Delta CVP contractors including BBID have a 0% allocation. In April, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reduced the initial 25% M&I allocation to Public Health & Safety.

BBID continues to seek alternative water supplies and, when necessary, vigorously defend its water rights. The District will provide water supply updates as conditions change.

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.

State Cuts Off Water to Thousands of Growers, Water Agencies

Sacramento, CA (June 15, 2021) – In a drastic move, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) notified thousands of California water agencies, growers, and landowners that their supply of water is cut off.

Yesterday the State Water Board sent water unavailability notices to 4,300 California water holders with post-1914 water rights, also known as junior water rights. This directive impacts San Joaquin County growers and M&I customers in the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) West Side Service Area.

“We do not believe the best available data nor the State Water Board’s flawed water availability methodology support water right curtailments for post-1914 or pre-1914 water rights,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “We also find it disappointing to initially learn about the State Water Board’s decision to issue notices of water unavailability from the media before receiving direct notice from the State Water Board,” Gilmore said.

BBID’s technical team previously identified several significant flaws with the State Water Board’s methodology, including the use of outdated data from past years instead of real-time information when available. The methodology also neglects to account for the different characteristics of watersheds across the state, including the quantity and quality of available data.

Meanwhile, notices were also sent to 2,300 senior water rights holders (pre-1914 and riparian), including BBID, informing them that similar notices of water unavailability may be sent this summer. The majority of BBID’s service area is supplied by water diverted under a pre-1914 water right.

In 2015, BBID successfully defended its senior water rights against an unprecedented administrative civil liability (ACL) complaint brought by the State Water Board. The complaint alleged BBID diverted water when none was available, threatening a $5-plus million dollar fine. The State Water Board eventually dismissed the complaint when BBID’s legal team demonstrated there was, in fact, water available.

“BBID is actively pursuing all available remedies to ensure reliable water supplies for our customers,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro, “while examining every avenue to protect our foundational water rights. As we have done in the past, we will stand up for the communities we serve.”