A California water resources board announced a plan Monday that would fine a district it alleged illegally took water despite warnings about the state's historic draught. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a draft complaint Monday penalizing the Byron-Bethany irrigation district for $1.5 million, the first of its kind.
The district was considered a senior water rights holder, meaning it usually has a high-priority authorization from before 1914 to take water from pumps, rivers and streams. Senior water rights holders had been exempt from many drought-inspired cuts due to this status, but on June 12 the board told the ones in the Sacramento and San Joaquin areas there wasn't enough water to meet everyone's needs, according to a news release.
The board argued the Byron-Bethany district, which serves three counties of farmers and 12,000 residents, kept diverting water until June 25. It allegedly took more than 2,000 acre-feet of water, totaling about 652 million gallons, the Sacramento Bee reported.
On Monday, district general manager Rick Gilmore said he hadn't known about the fine. "Perhaps the state water resources control board is not taking into account we purchased supplemental supplies," he told the Associated Press.
— CA Water Boards (@CaWaterBoards) July 20, 2015
California has been struggling with a severe drought for at least two years, causing the board to send out warnings telling water rights holders not to withdraw their normal amounts of water. Last week, it also sent a draft cease and desist to the nearby West Side Irrigation District of Tracy for breaking this to pump water out of the Old River.
In April, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed fines of up to $10,000 for people and businesses found to have repeatedly wasted water. "We've done a lot. We have a long way to go," Brown told USA Today. "So maybe you want to think of this as just another installment on a long enterprise to live with a changing climate and with a drought of uncertain duration."