This would be the first instance in history that such sweeping curtailments occurred to senior rights holders pre-dating 1914 in California, despite a similar drought that took place in 1977.
In the past, pre-1914 water rights were considered to be the most secure rights in the state, said PID General Manager Peter Rietkerk. Now, the State Water Board is attempting to take away due process—a system that would allow a hearing to take place so water rights holders may stake their claim before being subjected to water restrictions.
“The moment they say it is illegal, it is illegal,” said Rietkerk. “We would no longer have the ability to adjust our actions.”
PID Board President John Azevedo said the initiative is unlawful, and believes that every water rights holder should be subjected to a fair trial, as they know more about their specific region than those dictating the decision from the north.
“They are taking 100 years’ worth of water law and just turning it on its head,” Azevedo said. “We can work all this out on our own. Everyone’s demands have changed during this drought, and everyone is trying to help, but they cannot dictate from Sacramento that our water must be turned off without hearing what we have to say. They don’t realize how this will affect us.”
Rietkerk added that these blanket curtailments will not only impact growers directly this year, but also weaken the water right foundation on which families, communities, agriculture, financial lending, and many related industries have built their legacies.
The regulations, if they were to be approved, would not only waive due process rights to defend against curtailments, but will also give the State Water Board the discretion to issue curtailments for projects they deem necessary, including state and federal export projects that are currently not allowed under California’s current water rights system. As of now, the State Water Board intends to use the added water supply for fish and wildlife, said Azevedo.
PID is not the only district that seems to be riled up by the state’s proposed restrictions. Rietkerk and Azevedo said they have teamed up with many senior rights holders to discuss the implications of the curtailments, noting that it would be best to have each district handle their affairs accordingly.
“We have some growers that are taking twice as long to irrigate in between crops,” said Rietkerk. “They are checking things to make sure there are no inefficiencies, and they are doing everything they can to mitigate the issue.”
“We are putting 24 hour men to patrol the irrigation instead of allowing water to run freely,” added Azevedo. “We are doing what we can for our part.”
During the regularly scheduled meeting on May 21, a majority of senior water rights holders in the state, including many along the San Joaquin Valley River stood up to boast their concerns.
“Most of the agencies represented said emphatically there was no reason to curtail senior rights holders through emergency action,” said Rietkerk. “We prefer that they discuss speaking with us through the current water rights actions given the existing law, but not through emergency regulations.”
As a result, PID and other senior water right holders on the San Joaquin River signed a letter to the State Board urging that curtailments would not be a necessary action this year. The parties believe that essential fallowing, modified water operations and other demands can be significantly reduced without fully impacting the entire region.
They also plan to attend the regularly scheduled board meeting on June 17 to 18 to further discuss these issues.
Despite the joint effort to fight water restrictions, PID and its growers remain deeply concerned about the future impacts that senior water right curtailments will have on the community, should they occur.
Anyone who is interested in addressing these proposed curtailments should address letters to the State Water Resources Control Board at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187. ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.