The Oakdale Irrigation District reported on Wednesday, June 24 that state attorneys backed away from curtailment notices that were directed to more than 200 senior water rights holders in California, now saying they were “courtesy notices” and “advisory” only.
The hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Patterson Irrigation District. A similar lawsuit, also in Stanislaus County, was filed by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts and a related joint powers authority.
Another suit was filed in San Joaquin County by the Banta Carbona Irrigation District.
The suits all challenge the state’s legal authority to restrict water rights for agencies and individuals whose claim on water pre-dates the beginning of California’s permitting process in 1914.
On June 12, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued curtailment notices to senior rights holders for the first time since the drought in 1977. The notices directed specific rights holders to immediately stop diverting water and threatened daily $1,000 fines if they didn’t comply.
“Now, the state says it was merely advising – and not requiring – water rights holders to limit diversions during the drought,” an OID press release indicated.
“We’re living life in a blender at this point,” said OID General Manager Steve Knell. “The state water board has generated a lot of confusion by its actions. In its court papers, it’s apparent it’s changed course. It’s mass confusion.”
The first court hearing in the Banta Carbona case was Tuesday in San Joaquin Superior Court in Stockton. Officials from the state attorney general’s office acknowledged the curtailment notices were advisory.
State attorneys also asked for the case to be moved, suggesting Alameda, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. Judge Carter Holly ruled he did not have jurisdiction to issue a stay, but agreed the case must be moved or an outside judge be assigned.
“The notice issued by the state water board is merely a general courtesy notice,” state attorneys said Tuesday. “Before taking enforcement action, the state water board must conduct an initial analysis of how much water is available under this year’s drought conditions, and which water rights are legally authorized to divert under such conditions. Until this is done, the state water board cannot make reasoned decisions about which diverters to bring enforcement actions against.”
Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Patterson’s case went before Judge Timothy Salter. Like Holly, he ruled he did not have jurisdiction to issue a stay and agreed with the change-of-venue motion.
“The attorney general identified fatal flaws in the SWRCB’s curtailment notices,” said Jeff Shields, the general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “As a result, the appropriate action would be for the SWRCB to rescind the curtailment order or issue a clarification explaining they are only advisory, not compulsory.”