Concerns Raised Over Valley Water Rights
Friant, Other Agencies Filing Protests Over State Board Action
A new legal dispute has broken out that has raised significant concerns over water rights as a result of drought-related State Water Resources Control Board emergency action taken under executive power.
The situation, which remained unclear as the Friant Waterline went to press on March 6, resulted from a late January request by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in jointly filing a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP).
STATE AND FEDERAL REQUEST
DWR and Reclamation requested the State Board to temporarily modify water right permit and license terms for the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) related to Delta outflow and Delta Cross Channel Gate requirements under State Board Decision 1641.
FWA General Counsel Jennifer Buckman said the terms of the TUCP are concerning to many water users.
“A number of water users, including Friant, are filing protests because they believe the State Board’s order exceeds the scope of its authority and compromises their water rights,” Buckman said.
The Executive Order, as explained in a State Board statement, allows a reduced level of Delta outflow so that DWR and Reclamation can conserve water in upstream reservoirs but requires the saved water to remain in storage to release later in the season for health and safety uses and ecosystem protection.
URBAN DRINKING WATER?
While the Order does not define what is meant by “health and safety” uses, the SWRCB staff has suggested that it relates to urban drinking water.
Limited water exports from the Delta are to be allowed for public health and safety needs, but not for agricultural uses.
At the request of Reclamation and DWR, the State Board Executive Director has extended the TUCP through March.
Friant Water Authority’s Board of Directors reconvened from a February 27 closed session in Visalia to state the Authority “will take any and all appropriate legal actions to protect its water supplies and rights” in connection with the situation.
Reclamation is known to have been working on an operations plan that tries to balance the competing interests and water demands in this exceptionally dry year.
State Board officials point out the board itself “exercises continuing supervision over temporary urgency change orders, which are subject to modification or revocation at any time.”
A State Board statement said, “The Executive Director intends to make additional revisions to the Order on or about March 12, 2014, based on public comments, the most recent hydrology following the current precipitation event, and water balance estimates prepared by DWR and Reclamation.”