San Francisco, irrigation districts sue California over water cuts

San Francisco, irrigation districts sue California over water cuts

Water drains into an irrigation ditch next to a field in Modesto, California.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

A group of San Francisco and Central Valley irrigation districts are suing the state of California to enforce a drought ban that has prevented thousands of landowners and agricultural suppliers from draining water from rivers and streams.

A coalition of city and water agencies filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court. The lawsuit argues that the California State Water Resources Control Board lacks the legal authority to require senior water holders, including farmers and agricultural suppliers, to prevent water diversion even during droughts. .

The fight comes as California grapples with a record drought that has depleted reservoir levels and threatened water supplies. The US Drought Monitor shows that over 93% of the state is currently experiencing severe to exceptional drought, and conditions are worsening as the climate changes.

Similar fights could occur in the years to come across the southwestern United States as water scarcity continues to grow. For example, earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced plans to ration water from the Colorado River to Arizona and Nevada, paving the way for a fight with farmers and municipalities in those areas. States.

In August, the State Council ordered about 4,500 water rights holders to stop draining water from rivers and canals flowing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which faces low water levels due to drought. The order was one of the most aggressive cuts to the state’s water rights system ever.

State officials had argued that the ordinances would help conserve stored water to protect the drinking water supply, prevent salinity intrusion and protect the environment. The Delta watershed provides drinking water to two-thirds of the state.

State Council President E. Joaquín Esquivel said in a statement: “This decision is not intended to prioritize one group over another, but to preserve watersheds for all, to put implement our water rights prioritization system and ensure that we tackle this drought ”. is about. ”August statement.

The lawsuit argues that the state council did not have the power to restrict drinking water rights until 1914, the year the state council began regulating water withdrawals. The lawsuit claims that prior to 1914, only the courts had jurisdiction over water rights holders. He also argues that the State Council did not properly measure water use and therefore cannot ration it properly.

The San Joaquin Tributaries Authority is a coalition of water agencies whose providers include Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District, Merced Irrigation District, South San Joaquin Irrigation District, and San Francisco.

A spokesperson for the State Council declined to comment on the trial.

Doug Obegi, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a blog post on Wednesday that, contrary to claims in the lawsuit, San Francisco and other pre-1914 water rights holders are in fact subject to the authority of the Council of State.

Obegi said the “recent trial” is the latest example of a select few, with senior water rights officials falsely claiming they are above the law.

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