$1.5 Million Water Fine Issued Against California Farmers Over ‘Illegal Water Usage’ Claims

A $1.5 million water fine has been levied against a group of farmers who are struggling with California drought conditions. The state’s water resources control board claims the food-producers stole water to tend to their crops.

The California state Water Resources Control Board announced the $1.5 million water fine was being issued on Monday, creating a firestorm of complaints about the massive amount on social media. The hefty fine is reportedly the first time the board has issued a punitive fee of any amount against either an individual or district which holds “senior rights” in more than a century. Such entities have reportedly been immune from “mandatory conservation” regulations.

California has been battling drought conditions for the past four years, prompting unprecedented water conservation mandates. State officials are currently battling legal challenges to its water control authority. The $1.5 million fine was issued against the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District. The agriculture district reportedly serves 160 family farms and a suburban community, which is home to some 12,000 people in the Central Valley region.

California water board attorney Andrew Tauriainen said the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District was “outspoken” over the alleged continual illegal water usage, and said the massive fine should serve as a warning to others who attract the attention of board investigators in such a brazen manner, according to Fox News.

Ryssell Kagehiro, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District board president, claims that California water board officials arbitrarily chose to make an example of the district. Kagehiro went on to state that farmers in the district could lose $65 million worth of crops due to the stringent water usage mandates imposed by the state. The irrigation district filed a lawsuit in an effort to preserve its access to water before the $1.5 million water fine was levied.

The farmers in the district are challenging the state’s authority to restrict their water usage, because they feel their access rights predate the water permitting system put put into place in 1914. The court has not yet ruled on the senior rights issue.

“Farmers have to sort of weigh the cost of losing that crop, I guess, against potential fines,” University of the Pacific in Stockton economy professor, Jeffrey Michael, said.

If the California drought and water conservation order both continue, farmers could lose their seasonal yields and ultimately their farms. The food supply could also be jeopardized due to the extreme weather and water shortage.

Officials from the California water board are reportedly planning to issue more fines for illegal water usage later this summer. Officials have issued more than 9,000 notices to individuals and entities in the Central Valley region, warning them about the ongoing water shortage problem.

The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District allegedly diverted water from a pumping plant in June after being warned that the watershed was too dry to meet the demand. Rick Gilmore, district general manager, said he was unaware that a fine was coming and feels that the water used might have been “supplemental supplies,” which were actually purchased by the group.

The district has 20 days to request a hearing and fight the $1.5 million water fine before the bill is expected to be paid in full. The 5-member California water board claims it has the authority to levy fines as high as $5 million on illegal water usage, either by individuals or districts.

Do you think the California drought could put the food supply at risk? Should the $1.5 million water fine have been issued against the farmers by the state?

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