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Wendell Peart
06/12/2014 2:36 PM

The recent bombshell announcement by the State Water Resource Board that “2,648 water agencies, farms, cities and other property owners with so-called ‘junior’ water rights, or those issued by the state after 1914, in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, will be subject to curtailment,” sent shock waves throughout the state.

The severity of this drought is just beginning to take hold. It underscores the lack of preparedness and the dumb, blind belief that water availabilty is no problem. This was best expressed by General Manager Carl Boronkay, of the Metropolitan Water District, who said, “People take water for granted. They cannot do so anymore.”

The Amador County Board of Supervisors, in July 1996, ever cognizant of the fact that a growing population would need more water, invited Michael Jackson, an attorney versed in water law, to address the board on this vexing problem. A question that was uppermost on the supervisors’ minds was, “What will be the impact on the water rights in Amador County?”

The water rights are being impacted by the needs of the Bay/Delta, which serves as a water source for the growing needs for water for Southern California. The water in the Bay/Delta is an absolute necessity to sustain Southern California’s $20-billion economy. The water sources that supply water to the Bay/Delta are the Tuolumne, Feather, Sacramento and Mokelumne rivers and their tributaries. Jackson described the Bay/Delta as nothing more than a flat Mono Lake, whose water came from mountain tributaries. Jackson pointed out that, “The thing that the Regional Council of Rural Counties (has done) is to cause a shudder to run in Southern California, because they have had the experience of Mono Lake; and the San Francisco Bay Delta is nothing more than the flat surface of Mono Lake.”

Jackson went on to say, “If you are going to fix the Delta, you need to first fix the tributaries.”

Inasmuch as Amador County is a county of origin, its water rights will be under threat. Fixing the tributaries of the upstream areas is to undertake those measures that will enhance the water yield for local users, as well as provide enough water to satisfy the Bay/Delta. However, there is a problem, because of the need caused by population growth. There never will be enough water to satisfy that need. These update measures, including watershed habitat management, in reality, will only be stopgap measures, because somewhere in the future, the process will repeat itself all over again, due to the demands of population growth.

Senior water rights holders, blind to the needs of water occurring in other parts of the state due to population growth, are adamant in their determination not to have their water rights disturbed. The Sacramento Bee reported on May 30, “Even amid the drought conditions, some senior water rights holders have told the state they won’t tolerate cuts to their historic rights. They argue that the law makes what water the state has belongs first to them and there are no exceptions.”

A number of water agencies and their attorneys warned state officials at the board workshop last week they could face a “water war” if they move to restrict water rights.

“There will be people who will line up to take you into court,” said Dan Kelly, an attorney for Placer County Water Agency and others. “The reality is, water rights priorities are harsh. There are no health and safety exceptions to the water rights system. There just aren’t.”

Kelly and others like him, if they go through with their threats of court actions, are going to learn something. When other people need water because it is not available to them, and you have water, they will inevitably get it. The Dan Kellys that represent the senior water rights holders will, in all likelihood, lose in court.

California’s Constitution about water pretty much tells it all. “The general welfare requires the water resources of the state to be put to the beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable and the waste or unreasonable use or method of use of water be prevented.” (To be continued ...)

Wendell G. Peart, DVM, is a former member of the Amador Water Resource Advisory Committee.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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