California District Accused of Diverting Water During Record Drought Faces $1.5 Million Fine

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California District Accused of Diverting Water During Record Drought Faces $1.5 Million Fine

State regulators have pledged to continue penalizing regions where emergency water cutbacks are ignored

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District — a rural district in California that provides water to farmers within the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — is accused by regulators of illegally diverting water as the state endures its fourth year of a record drought.

The district has been hit with a proposed civil penalty of $1.5 million, which it has the right to challenge in court.

State officials have begun in earnest to crack down on regions where cutbacks mandated by the State Water Resources Control Board have been ignored. Among those emergency conditions, urban regions must reduce water usage by 25 percent, and farm regions, some with century-old water rights, must also submit to reductions. The Byron-Bethany district is one of the latter.

For its part, the district has accused state water regulators of making “an arbitrary example” of the region, and has pledged to “vigorously defend its right to water and due process.”

The state, meanwhile, has promised that such penalties are just beginning, and that other regions not in compliance with the cutbacks can expect to see similar fines. 

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