Water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore. A group of water users is outraged by a proposal from several academics that would change water rights in California. Rich Pedroncelli AP file
Water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore. A group of water users is outraged by a proposal from several academics that would change water rights in California. Rich Pedroncelli AP file

Soapbox

Ivory tower water grab is outrageous

By Raul Riesgo

Special to The Bee

November 29, 2017 02:00 PM

UPDATED November 29, 2017 02:00 PM

In a recent Viewpoints article (“A new approach to protecting rivers,” Nov. 20), three academics propose accomplishing the greater good by very bad means that are also clearly unconstitutional.

They would strip California’s water rights from private property owners without compensation and grant those rights to the environment and ecosystems, free of charge. Cities, farms, hydropower, fisheries, industry and other uses be damned, they seem to imply.

California’s infamous “Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting” collection of water laws has no greater bedrock than this: Citizens and others who own early claims to water rights have a state guarantee to the first use of water flowing to them in rivers, streams, lakes, underground aquifers and other bodies of water.

That guarantee is at risk of becoming worthless under the proposal published by the Public Policy Institute of California. Strip away the many claimed benefits and alluring promises and the state would seize water rights from private owners through political action.

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This proposal would likely prove costly, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management discovered when it simply diverted Klamath River Basin water to downstream ecological uses. After two decades of court battles, the federal courts awarded compensation to the Klamath water users, and only a claim by the Hoopa tribe of prior sovereign rights quashed the court’s order for the bureau to shell out payments.

There’s no legal cover to be found for this “healing the ecosystems” proposal, so the authors propose that the state follow a political “greater good” policy instead. What they actually promote is a water grab that would go around private property rights and would harm virtually everyone in California that uses or consumes water.

Gentlemen and ladies, it’s time to put down your whiskey and protect what is rightfully and legally your property. Only a fight will defeat them and their nefarious plan, undoubtedly already simmering on a legislative author’s desk in the state Capitol. This deeply flawed proposal should be declared dead on arrival.

Raul Riesgo is interim executive director of the California Water Alliance. He can be contacted at raul@californiawateralliance.org.