In hearings this week, the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) considered a proposed resolution regarding drought-related emergency regulations for curtailment of water diversions. The authority to adopt emergency measures was made possible through Governor Jerry Brown’s emergency drought declaration which occurred on January 17, 2014 and was continued in his April 25th proclamation.
The Board stated it needed to adopt emergency regulations to quickly implement and enforce curtailments to ensure that the state’s water rights priority system remains in effect. Due to the severity of the drought, large numbers of junior water rights holders have been ordered to cease diverting in order to protect the rights of senior holders. According to media reports, Board staff claim that less than a third of those notified have acknowledged the order as required by law.
Water managers and users throughout the state were on hand to remind the Board there are serious constraints on their ability to take action to curtail pre-1914 and riparian rights, and to argue against allowing the Board to find a diverter in violation and assess penalties before the water rights holder has an opportunity to contest the finding. Others argued that the emergency regulations need to be flexible to adjust to the state’s widely varying local circumstances and that a one-size-fits-all directive is not appropriate. Formal comments to the Board from Western Growers and other agriculture associations were also submitted in advance of the hearing.
At the end of the day, the Board gave protections to senior (riparian and pre-1914) water rights holders unless a complaint was filed and made the emergency regulations immediately enforceable The action remains in place for 270 days and pertains to all water rights holders when curtailment rights are applied.
Current penalties for non-compliance are $1,000 a day and $2,500 an acre-foot; however, the emergency regulations places an added a $500 per day penalty on those holders who are not in compliance.
The final order can be found at HERE.
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