Most grow­ers miss wa­ter dead­line

Only 31% of af­fected rights hold­ers say they’ve com­plied with cur­tail­ment or­der.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Monte Morin monte. morin@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @mon­te­morin

The ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­nia grow­ers, ir­ri­ga­tion dis­tricts and oth­ers who have been or­dered to stop draw­ing wa­ter from rivers and streams be­cause of wors­en­ing drought con­di­tions have failed to register their com­pli­ance be­fore an of­fi­cial dead­line, of­fi­cials said Mon­day.

In what a spokesman de­scribed as a “dis­ap­point­ing” de­vel­op­ment, the State Wa- ter Re­sources Con­trol Board re­leased f ig­ures show­ing that only 31% of af­fected wa­ter rights hold­ers had of­fi­cially re­sponded to cur­tail­ment or­ders.

When wa­ter right hold­ers re­ceive a shut- off or­der, they have seven days to sub­mit a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion form to the wa­ter board, of­fi­cials said.

Rights hold­ers who fail to heed a cur­tail­ment or­der and con­tinue draw­ing wa­ter are sub­ject to f ines of as much as $ 1,000 a day and $ 2,500 per acre- foot of un­law­fully di­verted wa­ter.

It re­mains un­clear ex­actly why the re­sponse rate is so low, and wa­ter board off icials said they were still study­ing the mat­ter. How­ever, at least one wa­ter rights at­tor­ney said that sim­ple over­sight might be a fac­tor.

“Most of them are small, mom and pop oper­a­tions,” Sacra­mento at­tor­ney David Alad­jem said. “Most of the small farm­ers I have worked with over the years are very good in terms of do­ing what they need to do to get a crop in, but they’re not so good on pa­per­work.”

Of the 9,112 cur­tail­ment or­ders is­sued to se­nior and ju­nior rights hold­ers this year, only 2,814 had gen­er­ated re­sponses, ac­cord­ing to the wa­ter board.

“I would think that the low re­sponse … is a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing,” said Ti­mothy Moran, a wa­ter board spokesman.

How­ever, the fig­ures also showed that re­sponse rates among large- vol­ume wa­ter users were much higher.

“If you look at it ac­cord­ing to wa­ter de­mand, the re­sponse is 78%,” Moran said. “That in­di­cates the ones who are re­spond­ing are the large wa­ter users.”

The vast ma­jor­ity of cur­tail­ment or­ders is­sued have af­fected so- called ju­nior rights hold­ers, or those en­ti­ties whose le­gal claim to wa­ter dates to 1914.

A much smaller num­ber of cur­tail­ment or­ders, 277, af­fected se­nior rights hold­ers — those whose rights date to be­fore 1914. Those or­ders were an­nounced June 12, and depend­ing on when the rights hold­ers re­ceived the no­tice, their re­sponse win­dow may still be open.

A num­ber of Cen­tral Val­ley se­nior rights hold­ers have f iled suit against the wa­ter board, ar­gu­ing that their rights were cur­tailed with­out due process.

On Mon­day, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from two ir­ri­ga­tion dis­tricts who are lit­i­gat­ing the se­nior rights cur­tail­ments said they did not see how the wa­ter board could limit their wa­ter use when the board had yet to re­ceive shut- off con­fir­ma­tion from ju­nior rights hold­ers.

“Un­til they are com­pli­ant, why should se­nior wa­ter users in our ag dis­trict be asked to give up one acre­foot of wa­ter,” said Steve Knell, gen­eral man­ager of the Oak­dale Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis- trict. He said that some ju­nior rights hold­ers were still draw­ing wa­ter in vi­o­la­tion of shut- off or­ders.

At the South San Joaquin Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­trict, gen­eral man­ager Jeff Shields said he was sur­prised to see such a low rate of re­sponse among ju­nior rights hold­ers. How­ever, he said there could be le­gal rea­sons se­nior rights hold­ers would not re­spond.

“It will be dif­fi­cult for those of us that have filed lit­i­ga­tion against the state wa­ter board chal­leng­ing their ju­ris­dic­tion to turn around and file a com­pli­ance cer­ti­fi­ca­tion,” Shields said.

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