With the State of California curtailing water rights for senior users, the Oakdale Irrigation District is speaking out, calling the move by the State Water Control Board unjustified and illegal.
On Friday, June 12, the water board, in an effort to deal with the four-year California drought, sent out curtailment notices to OID and dozens of other water agencies whose water rights pre-date 1914, the year the state’s permitting process began.
The notices do not affect water already stored in reservoirs, but it does keep the water agencies from capturing and diverting the runoff that is left in the almost drained watersheds.
According to OID General Manager Steve Knell, the State Water Control Board has never before curtailed pre-1914 water right holders, those holding senior rights.
“There is a reason for that,” Knell said, “it does not have jurisdiction to issue, manage, oversee or curtail pre-1914 water rights.”
Knell said OID and other senior rights holders are prepared to seek a stay in court to halt the state’s action until a judge can make a final ruling. He claimed the curtailment notices harm senior rights holders in favor of junior rights holders that use the Delta to move water to the south. He also challenged the state’s methodology and said there was no opportunity ahead of time for senior rights holders to appeal to the water board.
Knell called the action “hyper-regulatory management at its worst” and said water agencies in the San Joaquin River basin – which runs from Stockton to Fresno – have a long history of solving water shortages among themselves.
“The water board is using a bulldozer when it needs a scalpel,” Knell said in the OID release. “It does not have enough data and information to support this decision. It is based on estimates and unverified claims.”
Knell said OID had budgeted some surplus water to accommodate “this illegal action” by the state.
“For this year it won’t be much of an impact but the bigger issues lay with their legal ability to control pre-1914 senior rights in the future,” Knell said. “We, as well as the other tributary districts will seek a stay in court and hopefully corral any further action this year.”
Knell said OID representatives sent a letter offering a “cure” to the State Board on April 10, 2015 and it was also signed by all the senior water right holders on the San Joaquin River. No response was received.
OID’s water rights on the Stanislaus River date to 1909. It delivers irrigation water stored behind a series of dams to about 2,900 customers who farm about 60,000 acres in northeastern Stanislaus County and southeastern San Joaquin County.
“This fight is just beginning,” Knell proclaimed.