Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Protecting water and property rights

The Amador County Board of Supervisors routinely takes positions to protect the county's water rights and individual property rights, including landowners' right to use water from streams running through or along their property ("riparian rights"). The supervisors generally oppose anything they believe could adversely affect water or property rights, even if that belief is misguided (as in their position on the proposed National Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne River).

So I am wondering whether they will take a position on HR 1837. That pending federal legislation will subvert California's water rights system and allow junior water rights holders (Westlands Water District and Kern County interests) to jump the line for water ahead of senior water rights holders, including farmers and ranchers with riparian rights to the Sacramento River and Delta. The bill is the worst kind of federal intrusion into state affairs, the kind our supervisors generally decry with great vehemence -- at least when they deal with it in theory. (Note to the board: This time it's for real.)

The bill will also effectively eliminate the county of origin priorities that are a critical part of California's water system. That county of origin doctrine is intended to ensure that no one can take north state water from the places it originates (the Siskyous, Sierra and Sierra foothills) to the detriment of those areas.

So will the supervisors stand up for county of origin water rights and private property? I hope so, but that remains to be seen. You see, HR 1837 is sponsored by a Central Valley Republican, Devin Nunes. Nunes has picked up the highly effective but grossly inaccurate publicity from Westlands Water District that blamed environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act for high levels of unemployment and poverty in the Valley that are actually a long-standing problem made much worse by the Great Recession building bust. Westland farmers actually did fine last year. (The economic truths are detailed in a recently released study.) But Nunes's "save agriculture from the enviros and the ESA" trope fits very nicely with some of our supervisors' political ideology and personal beliefs.

So who's fighting to protect the counties of origin and property rights against this water grab? Democratic Congressmen John Garamendi and George Miller and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have expressed strong concerns about HR 1837. They've recently been joined by conservative Northern California Republican Rep. Wally Herger.

Here's a quote from our senators' joint letter on HR 1837:

Another troubling aspect of this bill is its attack on states’ rights and state control of its water resources. The bill’s explicit preemption of California law runs contrary to the long established tradition of Congressional and court deference to states on water resource decisions. Consequently, this bill sets a very dangerous precedent of Congressional intervention into state water rights, which could have far reaching consequences not only for California, but for other states as well.

This is a bill our county should strongly oppose, in no uncertain terms. It will destroy county of origin rights for foothill counties. It will violate private property rights and take riparian water rights away from their rightful owners. And it is a terrible federal intrusion into states' rights.

What will the supervisors do? Stand with Nunes, or join the bipartisan defenders of the state's water system and mountain county water rights?