Water & Drought

State water board dismisses $1.5 million fine

A state panel on Tuesday dismissed a $1.55 million fine it levied last year against a Delta-area agency accused of ignoring an order to stop diverting water during the drought.

State water regulators alleged last June that Byron-Bethany Irrigation District in the southern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta defied a state order issued to dozens of senior water rights holders. The order told them to stop pulling water from streams and rivers due to extremely dry conditions.

The complaint alleged that after the state issued the stop order, Byron-Bethany continued to divert 2,067 acre-feet of water over the next 13 days from an intake channel at the state-run Banks pumping station near Tracy. Board members said prosecutors failed to provide enough supporting evidence and didn’t adequately explain why there wasn’t enough water available for the district to use.

The order marked the first time since 1977 that California had curtailed water used by agricultural districts with senior water rights. Those rights predate a system the Legislature put into place in 1914.

The board on Tuesday also dismissed a complaint against West Side Irrigation District, a small agricultural district in the Delta town of Tracy that also was accused of violating the state’s curtailment order.