BBID Responds as State Water Board Issues Notice to Cut Off Senior Water Rights

Byron, CA (July 23, 2021) – “Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is aware of the emergency Notice of Water Unavailability impacting senior, pre-1914 water rights, including the District’s, issued by the State Water Resources Control Board this afternoon.

We will vigorously defend our water rights and maintain that the best available data does not support such an extraordinary action by the SWRCB, whose methodology for determining water availability is deeply flawed.

In the coming days and weeks, BBID’s team of legal, engineering, and hydrological experts will seek remedies to protect the customers we serve, including the multi-generational farming families who rely upon the water we provide.” – Rick Gilmore, General Manager

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.”

BBID Seeks to Recover Fees from State in Landmark Water Rights Case

San Jose, CA (August 5, 2019) –On Monday, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) filed a motion in Santa Clara County Superior Court, seeking to recover nearly $2 million in attorneys’ fees from the State of California.

The motion is directly related to an enforcement action brought by the State Water Resources Control Board (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 seeking a $5 million fine. On the third day of the administrative hearing before the SWRCB, BBID’s legal team successfully argued that the evidence submitted by the SWRCB litigation team failed to meet its burden of proof, and the SWRCB hearing officer granted BBID’s motion for judgment dismissing the enforcement action.

After the dismissal of the enforcement action, BBID resumed its 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 to enforce priority of rights between pre-1914 and riparian water rights. The Court’s ruling solidifies the oldest water rights in California. 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 which the notices were based.

BBID now seeks recovery of the significant legal fees and costs incurred defending its senior water rights, and those held by the state’s other pre-1914 and riparian water right holders. The hearing of BBID’s motion is set for October 18th.

Read the full court documents below.

BBID Engages State Water Board to Ensure Proper Implementation of Water Rights Fairness Bill

In its ongoing commitment to ensure fairness for California’s water right holders, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) proactively engaged the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board).

The below letter details BBID’s efforts to ensure the proper implementation of Assembly Bill 747, which establishes a neutral Administrative Hearings Office to adjudicate complex water rights matters.

SWRCB Esquivel_AB747 Hearing Officer_060319

Governor Brown Signs BBID-Backed Water Rights Fairness Bill

Sacramento, CA (September 24, 2018) – Landmark legislation crafted by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) to restore Constitutional due process and restore fairness for California’s water right holders is now law. Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 747, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). AB 747 passed the Legislature by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

“The Governor’s action cements a significant step toward improving the transparency, objectivity and accountability for California’s water rights administration and enforcement,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “This law will go a long way toward implementing the necessary checks and balances, as well as restoring the water community’s faith in the process.”

AB 747 establishes a fairer process for water right holders who for many years felt they had little choice but to settle enforcement actions brought against them by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB currently acts as both prosecutor and judge in enforcement actions initiated by the Board. This bill creates an Administrative Hearings Office within the SWRCB. Expert attorneys will serve as hearing officers to hear and adjudicate complex, critically important water rights matters. A similar structure is already in effect for many state agencies.

This legislation is the response to AB 313, which was introduced last session by Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced), and ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown. Since then, BBID and other local government districts proactively engaged the Brown Administration to find common ground.  AB 747 is the result of that effort.

“On behalf of the BBID Board of Directors, I would like to thank Assemblymember Caballero and her staff for all of their hard work, and recognize Assemblymember Gray’s important contributions at the outset of this effort,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “We must also thank Governor Brown and his Administration for their recognition of this critical issue impacting communities statewide, and for their collaboration to reach a solution.”

The new hearing unit will take effect in the coming months.