With California in its third drought year, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce’s 42nd Annual Ag Scholarship Luncheon on March 19 brought in known attorney, Valerie Kinkaid, to discuss its chosen topic, “Three Major Threats to Water Rights.”
Kincaid, a partner with O’Laughlin and Paris, LLP of Chico, concentrates on water resource law, environmental compliance, public agency representation, and litigation represents various public irrigation districts, water districts, and water authorities in the area.
Kincaid defined the three threats to farmers and irrigation districts as water quality control plans, groundwater regulations, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.
“Geographically and jurisdictionally, they couldn’t be more different,” said Kinkaid, explaining that water quality was a state issue, groundwater regulations were local concerns, and ESA was a federal interest.
During the discussion, Kincaid explained that water rights were not about “ownership,” but about the usage of the water and the provisions governing that use.
According to Kincaid, the Water Quality Control Plan – AKA the Big Delta Control Plan – overseen by the state was the most threatening and challenging to users.
Kincaid showed a chart with proposals to significantly increase river water flows by 200 percent. As a result, there would be a major cut in usage and more anticipated well pumping.
“It’s a pretty drastic reduction, and the effects of that ripple down,” Kincaid said of the plan that favors fish over farms.
The plan would require more than 30 percent of the flows in local rivers be reduced from February to June each year.
Kincaid said the plan would trickle down economically to farmworker layoffs; increased losses in seed and tractor sales as well and other goods.
Historically, “senior” and established users were given priority to more “junior” users and the new regulations would significantly affect the San Joaquin Valley.
“It’s a clear but clever way to violate water right rules in the state,” Kincaid said.
With ground water regulations or the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), local groundwater management agencies that are supposed to manage SGMA have not been formed yet.
“The act has been passed, but no definition of sustainability has been established,” Kincaid said.
She added the ESA does not affect the area usually until drought or low flow years like now.
Because of the potential to strand fish, or create harmful habitat conditions, the Environmental Protection Agency can mandate the usage of certain water.
Because of that, Kincaid felt there was no arena to compete or protest a balance with the human need.
“A lot of these battles will be raised in the courtrooms,” Kincaid said in conclusion.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Guardiola said the annual scholarship luncheon is held during National Ag Week to bring awareness to local agriculture industries. Each year the chamber of commerce gives at least two scholarships to high school seniors that are going into an agriculture related field of business.
This year the event was attended by over 240 individuals.
“The ag committee plans the event one year ahead,” said Guardiola. “In summer of 2014 this topic was picked. It appears from the large crowd that the topic was of great interest. Close to $3000 was raised to support Oakdale Ag Scholarships for future students.”