SACRAMENTO (CN) - California water regulator fined two Northern California landowners $332,000 Monday for violating the governor's drought orders and illegally diverting water.
The State Water Resources Control Board issued cease and desist orders to Mike Passalaqua and Peder Hoy for illegal water diversions from the Tuolumne River in 2014.
The men own property 7 miles southwest of Modesto and have 20 days to request a hearing on the civil penalties.
The cease and desist orders were the 11th the water board issued this year, and just the 13th since 2014. The regulator has suspended the water rights of many farmers and property owners in the past two years due to the state's historic drought.
Water board investigators said they saw Passalaqua and Hoy illegally diverting water from the Tuolumne River in June 2014, though they do not own land at the diversion site. When asked about the diversions, the men said they had the proper riparian rights in the Tuolumne watershed, according to the order .
During inspection of the properties, investigators determined that the men were diverting water to 172 acres that were not contiguous to the Tuolumne River, so riparian rights did not apply.
Along with the illegal diversions, the water board says Hoy, the registered owner of Peder Hoy Dairy Inc. in Modesto, violated another drought order by refusing to submit diversion records.
The men face additional fines of up to $10,000 per day if they violate the cease and desist order.
For the first time since 1977, the state has ordered senior water rights holders to stop diverting water from streams. The water board has issued curtailment orders to more than 9,000 water rights holders this year, including West Side Irrigation District, which has taken the regulator to court.
In October, three cities and a desert water district were fined for missing Gov. Jerry Brown's mandatory water conservation standards. Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District were the first municipalities to be fined by the water board for missing their water savings targets.
Scientists estimate California is facing a rain debt equal to a year's worth of statewide precipitation and that more than 22 million trees have died from the drought.
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