California is a state example of water rights being controlled more by the courts than regulators or water boards. Every move related to water is contested in court eventually by one group or another, and two filings by farmers are the latest nearing first ruling. Of course, the common result is that lower level state court rulings are appealed to one or two higher level courts.
Ag Alert agricultural newspaper of the California Farm Bureau reported that rulings are being awaited from testimony in two court cases. One was debated in Siskiyou County Superior Court to try and sidetrack an interpretation of the Fish and Game Code by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The DFG in that county has claimed farmers as of 2010 need to inform the DFG to obtain agreements to exercise their water rights to open head gates or activating an existing pump for crop irrigation. If DFG agreements are needed for these operations, then there is a whole new level of regulation and cost to farmers.
The second court case involves farmers being stopped from using sprinkler water to occasionally protect grapes and pears from frost, although it isn’t that common. State and federal regulators have claimed this frost protection action pulls too much water from the Russian River and its tributaries, which could endanger “protected salmon and steelhead,” Ag Alert explained. The farmers argued in court that the regulators are being unreasonable in declaring all diversions of water for frost protection unreasonable.
Farmers and ranchers in California have warned farmers in the rest of the nation that every move related to water for farming will probably have to be argued state by state and county by county, just like what happens in California.