It is no secret that the State of California was tasked with handling one of the worst droughts in California’s recorded history. In 2015, a group of several irrigation districts and water agencies (Public Agencies) located in the Delta challenged how the State curtailed water users during the drought and, after years of litigation, recently obtained victory in Santa Clara Superior Court. The decision protects water right holders by requiring the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) to provide due process protections before requiring California water rights holders to stop lawful water diversions.

The case began when the Water Board issued written notices to large groups of water diverters in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Delta watersheds, requiring the diverters to immediately stop diverting water and report to the Water Board when they stopped diverting water. No due process hearings were conducted prior to issuing these notices. Thus, when they received the notice, diverters faced two choices: (1) comply and stop diverting water, causing harm to their residential, commercial and agricultural customers; or (2) defy the notice and risk substantial administrative penalties for every day of diversion. Initially baffled by notices, some Public Agencies decided to continue diverting, some stopped diverting and, if available, purchased water from other sources, and some complied and ceased diversions.

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