State Water Board needs broader authority for water rights enforcement, says the Delta Watermaster

Broader authority for the State Water Board to enforce water rights violations and prevent illegal diversions are among the key recommendations of an informational report to be presented at Wednesday’s Board meeting by Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson.

In his report, Improving Water Rights Enforcement Authority, Mr. Wilson compared the State Water Board’s existing authority for enforcement of water quality violations to its authority for enforcing water rights and found the board’s authority over water rights to be weak and containing an “unnecessary abundance of process.”  Mr. Wilson is proposing changes to the water code that include fines of up to $500 a day for permit or license violations, making misstatements, or tampering with required monitoring devices, as well as specific requirements for reporting and inspections and amendments for streamlining service of process when enforcing water right violations.

Enhancing the State Water Board’s water rights authority will benefit the state’s ability to improve water supply planning and make sound water use decisions,” Mr. Wilson wrote.  “Delayed or postponed compliance can foster situations where individuals make decisions, take action, or fail to take action that are adverse to the public interest in maximizing the reasonable and beneficial use of water and in protecting the environment.” 

Mr. Wilson’s findings certainly aren’t new; calls for more effective water rights enforcement date back at least to the 2008 Delta Vision process.  The Delta Reform Act of 2009 included some provisions for broader enforcement authority, but other provisions originally included in the proposed legislation were ultimately not adopted.   While the 2012 Delta Vision Report Card gave the State Water Board high marks for reorganizing and refocusing to address critical issues in the Delta, the report card noted that the Board remains “constrained by the lack of funding and resources to implement its water rights responsibilities.“

Mr. Wilson concludes that the State Water Board’s authority for water right enforcement is inconsistent with its broad authority for water quality matters and that by implementing the recommendations contained in the report, the State Water Board will have similar broad enforcement authority over water right matters.  State Water Board staff is recommending consideration of the report’s conclusions.

  • Click here to read the Delta Watermaster’s report.
  • Click here to view the agenda for the State Water Resources Control Board meeting for September 19, 2012 (see agenda item 11).
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