Staff at the State Water Resources Control Board asked lawmakers this week for more funding to better enforce curtailment orders.
The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee held a lengthy hearing to examine policy ideas for reforming water rights. Much of the focus turned to a flareup last summer with Siskiyou County ranchers, who continued to divert from Shasta River despite a $4,000 fine.
Yvonne West, the board’s enforcement director, said the curtailment order was “clearly not a deterrent” and “sometimes the economic benefit of noncompliance is significant.” Other staff stressed that nearly all diverters complied with orders. Complaints on that watershed alone accounted for a quarter of all statewide complaints.
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Law academics are seizing on the incident to bolster reforms to water rights. They propose authorizing the board to immediately halt such illegal diversions and to levy steep civil penalties on violators. One law professor argued the curtailment system is self-policing and clearly not working.
Chair Rebecca Bauer-Kahan will be pushing for ramping up enforcement authority when her committee later this month considers a bill she authored.