June 17, 2015

Conflicts Abound Over Water in California

A trio of water issues has come to a head, sparking both congressional intervention and legal action in the fight for water in California.

First, the State Water Contractors (SWC) filed a complaint today with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) asking it to issue orders preventing water diverters in the Delta south of the San Joaquin River from diverting in excess of their water rights.  SWC alleged the “substantial and unlawful diversions… threaten to increase the burden of limited stored water supplies, affecting both the environment and other water users.”   

State Water Contractors is an association of 27 public agencies served by the State Water Project, which delivers surface water to much of Southern California and several irrigation districts south of the Delta. 

In another issue, a bipartisan group of 18 members of Congress sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown late last week urging restoration of the Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan.  The Members of Congress asked for the governor to reverse SWRCB Executive Director Tom Howard’s suspension of the plan, citing “the magnitude of environmental and social-economic consequences to the state as a result of the decision to be made are extreme and demand engagement at the highest levels.”   They also proposed a short list of principles to guide the development of the best achievable solution to the pending decision, including:

  • Maximizing beneficial use of water this year
  • Balancing outcomes of endangered species
  • Relying upon expertise of state and federal operators and biologists
  • Using all available conventional and non-conventional tools

Late today the SWRCB announced that it is extending the suspension as officials work on a revised plan. 

Finally, with curtailment orders issued for some senior water rights holders, several lawsuits are expected to surface. Byron-Bethany Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District are examining their options and are likely to take legal action challenging the state’s authority to curtail pre-1914 water rights.  WG will continue to update readers.