Judge Deals CA Water Regs Setback in Drought-Fighting Effort

California Drought Lake McClure (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

A California court dealt a potentially major setback Friday to state water regulators when it ruled that curtailment notices sent to four water agencies to stop pumping water during the drought violated those agencies’ due process rights.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang issued a temporary restraining order Friday against the State Water Resources Control Board, blocking water regulators’ ability to enforce cutbacks ordered on four California water agencies: the Central Delta Water Agency, the South Delta Water Agency, the West Side Irrigation District and Woods Irrigation Co.

The four agencies were among the 114 senior water rights holders who had been ordered in May to stop all water diversions while the state struggles to fight a record four-year drought.

The May curtailment orders “violated Petitioners’ Due Process Rights,” Chang wrote in her ruling. “Every day the Letter remains in its current form constitutes a violation of those constitutional rights. Accordingly, it is proper for this Court to issue a temporary restraining order while the administrative process is ongoing.”

Last month, several water agencies considered defying the state’s order to stop all water pumping as “mass confusion” reigned over whether the curtailment notices were enforceable by law or were to simply serve as “general courtesy notices.” Some senior water rights-holding agencies filed suit against the State Water Board, challenging the legality of the orders.

While Friday’s ruling only affects farmers and individuals served by four water agencies, there could be precedent to apply the ruling to agencies statewide.

“This seems to subtly change the relationship between the regulated and the regulator,” Steve Herum, an attorney for the West Side Irrigation District, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The court has said that state regulators can’t threaten to take property rights in the manner that the state has attempted to do… It’s really a win for all property interests in California.”

The case is scheduled to return to court on July 30. State Water Resources Control Board spokesman Tim Moran told the Fresno Bee that state attorneys are reviewing the ruling.




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