In what seems a lot like a strawman for just how much they can pressure the population, AP reports California water regulators proposed a first-of-its-kind, $1.5 million fine for a group of Central Valley farmers accused of illegally taking water during the drought. This would be the first such fine for holders of California’s oldest (most senior) claims to water, and follows suits from the farmers to the government arguing their ‘law changes’ are illegal.
As AP reports, the State Water Resources Control Board said the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District in Tracy illegally took water from a pumping plant even after it was warned there wasn’t enough water legally available.
The move by the board was the first against an individual or district with claims to water that are more than a century-old, known as senior water rights holders.
The action reflects the rising severity of California’s four-year drought that has prompted the state to demand cutbacks from those historically sheltered from mandatory conservation.
The Byron-Bethany district serves farmers in three counties in the agriculture-rich Central Valley and a residential community of 12,000 people relying on water rights dating to 1914.
District general manager Rick Gilmore said he did not know a penalty was coming and wasn’t aware of the details.
“Perhaps the state water resources control board is not taking into account we purchased supplemental supplies,” he said.
Several irrigation districts have filed unresolved legal challenges to stop the curtailments demanded by the state.
Among them is the West Side Irrigation District, which claimed a victory in a ruling last week by a Sacramento judge who said the state’s initial order to stop pumping amounted to an unconstitutional violation of due process rights by not allowing hearings on the cuts.
Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang also indicated, however, that the water board can advise water rights holders to curtail use and fine them if the agency determines use exceeded the limit.
West Side is a small district with junior water rights, but the ruling also has implications for larger districts with senior rights.
West Side’s attorney Steven Herum said the order issued Thursday was prompted after the judge sided with his client.
“It is clear that the cease-and-desist order is retaliatory,” Herum said. “It’s intended to punish the district.”
The board has sent out more than 9,000 notices across parched California warning there wasn’t enough water entitled under rights.
The water board issued a cease-and-desist order last week against the West Side Irrigation District, also in Tracy, to immediately stop taking water. That district also had filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s cuts, but the state denies it’s retaliating against the agency.
Courts have not yet settled the question of whether the board has authority to demand cutbacks from farmers, cities and individuals with California’s oldest claims to water.
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Of course we suspectthe proposed fine will be reduced but it is likley testing the waters with just how much a fine is required to scare the people into not exercising their senior rights to water. But as Gaius Publius (via Down woith Tyranny blog) concludes, here’s what’s likely to happen next…
The social contract will break in California and the rest of the Southwest (and don’t forget Mexico, which also has water rights from the Colorado and a reason to contest them). This will occur even if the fastest, man-on-the-moon–style conversion to renewables is attempted starting tomorrow.
This means, the very very rich will take the best for themselves and leave the rest of us to marinate in the consequences — to hang, in other words. (For a French-Saudi example of that, read this. Typical “the rich are always entitled” behavior.) This means war between the industries, regions, classes. The rich didn’t get where they are, don’t stay where they are, by surrender.
Government will have to decide between the wealthy and the citizenry. How do you expect that to go?
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We suspect the tipping point in this situation is looming soon as tensions between the government’s tyrannical law changes (albeit due to historic weather conditions) become unbearable for the citizenry.