Are Water Rights Sufficient to Protect Water Users?

Drought water crops“The judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes in Elimra, New York in 1907.

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That quote exemplifies the reason that five irrigation districts on tributaries to the San Joaquin River as well as the city of San Francisco filed lawsuits recently against the State Water Resources Control Board. They are defending their water rights. 

In December, ahead of the Water Board hearing, Governor Brown and Governor-elect Newsom both asked the Water Board to hold off and let the districts, the State, and the federal government finalize the voluntary agreements. But that didn’t happen and the problem is now in Governor Newsom’s lap as his Water Board will likely have to turn its attention to defending its decision in court.

“We file suit not because we prefer conflict over collaboration. On the contrary, we continue to encourage and participate in settlement discussions on our rivers, and support science on the Stanislaus. But we also have an indisputable responsibility to reserve our legal rights and protect our ag and urban customers,” said Peter Rietkerk, General Manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID).

Unfortunately, sometimes, the courts are your only recourse.

The State Water Board’s decision on December 12, 2018 doubles the amount of water the State will take away from farms growing food, the parks and sporting fields where our children play, and even the water we drink from our taps at home and bubbling out of drinking fountains at schools. And if flow requirements can be imposed on the San Joaquin River they can be imposed anywhere.

The sad thing is there was an alternative available, but the Board has so far rejected it. Farmers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, irrigation districts, the Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Reclamation, worked collaboratively at the behest of both Governors Brown and Newsom, to propose a voluntary plan designed to quickly accomplish more for fish and the environment without the drastic harm water users expect from the water cuts.

Under these proposals farms and cities would still give up billions of gallons of water to the river during times that science tells us that it’s needed, as well as implement projects that improve habitat for fish, reduce predators and enhance ecosystems far beyond what the Board’s water-only plan could achieve. The voluntary proposals, expected to produce more salmon than the plan adopted by the State Water Board with less harm to the economy, would have been a win for all – farms, fish and folks.

“Our voluntary agreement will ensure water security and reliability, includes environmental improvements, enhances fish populations far beyond what is projected in the state’s current plan and most importantly, guarantees timely implementation,” said Modesto Irrigation District Board Vice President John Mensinger. “Their (the Board’s) plan threatens not only Central Valley ag and urban water users, but also the water supply of more than two million people living in the Bay Area.”

There is still an opportunity for the Water Board to adopt a voluntary path toward ecosystem restoration and faster solutions to restore dwindling salmon populations. The question is, will they do it or will former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes words be put to the test again?

Executive Director, California Farm Water Coalition.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily


  1. A lawsuit was just filed to CLOSE part of a CA State Park, known as Carnegie SVRA next to Tesla Road in Alameda County/Tracy this past Friday. It is closed to the PUBLIC, but not closed for the homeowner behind this area that filed the suit. Go figure………… this so called stream is DRY 95% of the year and is more a flood plain than a stream or river. check t out at Just another fake lawsuit that the public has to shell out money to defend…………….. Grrrrrrr

  2. Today is the day Kansas City’s Mahones faces the gold standard of all time of NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots are surely the face of capitalism in America if there ever was one. The unbelievable success, the win against all odds, the humility of being so blessed and taking it all in stride has made this team America’s team. Now I see that today the press and another bunch of people pushing a political agenda have established the Patriots as the underdog of this heralded contest. There may be one angle the professional pickers have left out of the equation, I seriously doubt Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots have any idea they’re going to lose this football game.

  3. Will an 18th-century time traveler find things as he left them in the Central Valley if he goes forward to the 22nd?
    If the water rights established by law are overturned, there is a very good chance of that happening.
    We are being governed/ruled by the very worst of men as they chase every shiny bauble in the pursuit of a false redemption.

  4. Word smithing in this article leaves one gasping for breath. This all goes
    back to the issue of water containment. Since dams were the evil culprits
    promulgated through the mental machinations of the liberal mind, water
    containment was the villain. However, water containment does not require
    dams. Excessive taxation for saving water has been diverted elsewhere for political reasons, which I reference as political malfeasance. This is not about water containment, it’s about money containment for dubious reasons.

  5. As an afterthought, is the Clinton water bill still in effect ? That’s the issue of navigational jurisdiction. All navigable waters became the purview of
    the Federal government…..AND a codicil was added….All waters, creeks,
    streams that flowed into these navigable waters were also to come under
    the jurisdiction of the government.

  6. Do you remember the water conservation bill proposed about a year ago that held very severe water rationing steps to be retrofitted into each home, which included faucetts, toilets, pipes, no use of tankless water heaters,and etc. etc. It would be very costly and problematic for all. I never heard about the bill again, but you can tell what the gang in Sacramento might be going with this.

    • I remember my county creating a water rationing program. It was so successful it required a hefty rise in water rates to cover costs and when the drought passed that increase in water rates remained. It is now called a reserve fund, but, in actuality a slush fund for the pickings. A sneaky

    • showandtell says

      Was this the one, Aprila?
      “1) an initial indoor water allowance of 55 gallons per person per day — dropping to 50 gallons by 2030; 2) an outdoor residential amount set by regional climates and; 3) a set standard for systemwide pipe leak losses.
      “According to the attentive folks at The Organic Prepper, this allotted water ration exceeds the amount required for taking a shower and doing a single load of laundry and excludes taking baths altogether.”
      Jerry Brown signed them— they’re on the books

  7. The quickest and most financially responsible way to resolve this issue is to summarily fire the entire Water Resources Control Board and every single bureaucrat that works for them. Another useless state regulatory agency that we could best do without. It they weren’t in the original 1879 CA Constitution they aren’t needed.

  8. Amen.

  9. This article should be sent to every person in California.

    • Boris Badenov says

      Bogiewheel, I believe that President Trump removed that particular insane regulation, over the squealing of the Dims.

      JLSeagull, that would be an excellent idea!

      Joan, it would have to be translated into about 15 languages.

      We the people account for about 4% of the water usage in this state. We could become a turd-world country and they’d still complain. Just build the dams already and let the fish figure it out. Oh, after that last little storm we got, the majority of the reservoirs are up to historical average. Our current snow pack is significantly above this time last year. I can’t find the data for moisture levels in the snow.

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