Fines Back on Table in|California Water Wars

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s water regulator can continue pursuing enforcement penalties against several water districts for illegally diverting water and violating drought orders, a state court judge ruled Monday.
     Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang struck down a group of water districts’ request for injunction against the State Water Resources Control Board, ruling the water board’s revised curtailment orders constituted due process.
     Lead plaintiff West Side Irrigation District and three other water suppliers are facing fines of up to $10,000 per day for illegal water diversions.
     Last month Chang issued a temporary restraining order barring the water board from enforcing administrative penalties, ruling the board handed out curtailment notices without giving water agencies a chance to defend themselves.
     In response to Chang’s order, the water board reissued curtailment notices to over 9,000 water rights holders and filed a cease and desist order against the West Side Irrigation District. The notices and order reiterated that the water board intended to enforce administrative penalties against water agencies that ignore drought orders issued by the state’s top water cop.
     “After the State Water Board sent revised notification letters to water users, the judge did not allow an injunction against our ongoing enforcement efforts. In particular, the judge noted that merely notifying water users of an insufficient water supply does not violate due process,” said George Kostryko in a statement, water board spokesman.
     The water districts argued that the reissued curtailment notices still contained “coercive language” and that the water board did not correct offending language from the original notices. West Side Irrigation District also said the water board’s cease and desist order was issued in retaliation for the lawsuit.
     Chang disagreed, ruling the amended notices gave water rights holders ample notice that enforcement actions could be taken by the water board if they continue to divert water without insufficient supplies.
     “The July letter now rescinds this language of command that the court found violated petitioners’ due process rights,” Change wrote. “Again, it is not for this court to second guess the board and decide exactly how it should have rescinded the curtailment letters.”
     West Side Irrigation District is expected to request an administrative hearing regarding the enforcement actions taken by the water board. The water board says it is motioning for the case to be dismissed and that a hearing is scheduled for December.
     The West Side Irrigation District could not be reached immediately for comment.

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