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Did Farmers Finally Win One?

"I don't think, from the board's perspective, there is a practical impact" from the judge's ruling, he said.

Jul 13, 2015

A Sacramento judge sided with water agencies Friday in their battle with the State Water Resources Control Board, saying the board can't enforce strict water restrictions because it violates the constitutional rights of water rights holders.

Is this a win for farmers who need the water?  "It's a complete victory" said Stockton attorney Steve Herum who represents several districts that received notices.  And it's also a win for everyone who believes in the rule of law.  We never know if judges will rule based on the law as written or based on their political disposition at the time.  This judge looked at the law and ruled on what it says.  That's a win for everyone.  It's good that unelected bureaucrats can't take your rights without at least a hearing.  

But before you go out celebrating, take a look at the water board's response.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, board attorney David Rose said "the curtailment letters may be problematic and need revision."  In other words, just need a re-write.  

In the board's official response they say "any such enforcement action would occur only after notice and an opportunity for hearing pursuant to the Water code.  This has been the consistent position of the State Water Board staff, and was specifically identified in the curtailment notices sent in May and June."  As a result, the board doesn't feel hobbled by the judge's ruling, Rose said.  "I don't think, from the board's perspective, there is a practical impact" from the judge's ruling, he said.

The water board acts as if the judge ruled in their favor.  

Court ruling is a potential blow to state water-saving efforts

By Kurtis Alexander/SF Chronicle
A Sacramento judge on Friday blocked the state from enforcing the rigid water restrictions it imposed on a handful of Central Valley water agencies, a potential blow to California’s broader push for conservation.
Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that notices sent by the state, directing water agencies to stop pumping from rivers and creeks, violate the water agencies’ due process rights. The court issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from enforcing the directives until further proceedings.
While the action affects only a few dozen farmers — those served by four delta water agencies suing the state — several other water agencies are taking up the same legal fight.
The dispute comes as the State Water Resources Control Board notifies hundreds of water rights holders across California that they need to halt diversions from rivers and creeks or face potential fines.
Amid a fourth year of drought, state officials say there’s insufficient water to meet all of California’s needs and are seeking to curtail users in order of seniority.
Chang didn’t comment on the need for water restrictions Friday, ruling only that the state’s “curtailment” letters violate the constitutional rights of water rights holders by not giving them opportunity to contest state demands.
Herum, like representatives of other water agencies pursuing similar cases, argued that the state hasn’t adequately demonstrated the need to restrict water from farms.
State officials dismissed the ruling as inconsequential.
Water board attorney David Rose said the curtailment letters may be problematic and need revision. But he said Chang’s finding doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the board can — and will — crack down on those who take water illegally.
In addition to the West Side Irrigation District, the litigants are the Central Delta Water AgencySouth Delta Water Agencyand Woods Irrigation Co.
The case is scheduled to return to Sacramento County Superior Court on July 30.
Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: kalexander@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kurtisalexander

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