Merced CA Irrigation District sues state over water cuts

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The lawyer for the Merced Irrigation District announced on Tuesday that he had filed a lawsuit to fight the drastic restrictions imposed earlier this year by the state’s water regulators.

On August 4, the State Water Resources Control Board cut farmers in Merced and the central San Joaquin Valley off their main irrigation supplies – which are the rivers and streams of California – so as the drought worsens.

MID lawsuit aims to protect water rights and disadvantaged communities in eastern Merced County, according to a press release from MID.

The lawsuit alleges the board failed to prove there is an emergency.

The lawsuit also says the board also failed to develop clear guidelines for reduction, address drought during wet years, maintain due process or meet with local agencies, among several other allegations.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday, September 2 at the same time like others around the state, according to the press release.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked local water agencies to work with the State Water Board to avoid disputes, according to MID’s attorney general Phillip McMurray.

“Unfortunately, the Water Board has still not agreed to meet or even discuss our proposals,” McMurray said.

The National Water Office voted unanimously impose a “Emergency interruption” order covering the rivers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed – essentially the entire central valley.

The move was the most extreme step taken to date by state regulators since the drought hit. officially declared in most counties in California, and it goes further than any measures taken in the previous drought.

MID chief executive John Sweigard said state regulators took questionable action and failed to act in good faith.

“During the last drought, we were able to develop important compromises with the State Water Board which allowed us to take concrete measures for the benefit of the MID, the environment and other water users in California,” said he said in the press release.

MID owns and operates Lake McClure on the Merced River, and supplies water to approximately 2,200 agricultural producers on approximately 132,000 acres in eastern Merced County, according to the district. Almost all of the towns and communities served by the MID were found to be disadvantaged by the state.

Beyond the communities financially affected by the reduction, district officials argue that the council’s actions could significantly harm hydroelectric production from the New Exchequer Dam, which benefits the state’s grid.

The water council said in August it needed to reduce the use of farmers to preserve river flows for drinking water as well as endangered fish species. “The adoption of an emergency regulation is necessary to address the immediate and severe water shortages in the Delta watershed,” the order said.

The Council of State has imposed emergency reduction orders on a limited number of farmer groups in 2014 and 2015, but never on such a large scale as August 4th.

This story was originally published September 7, 2021 5:49 pm.

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Journalist Thaddeus Miller has covered towns in the Central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing on everything from the latest news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after a stint at Merced and Los Banos.


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