May 12, 2016

Probably the lofty State Water Resources Control Board thought it had picked an easy mark when it singled out two obscure local irrigation districts for allegedly taking water illegally.

The state board menaced the Byron-Bethany and Westside water districts with a cease and desist order and, in Byron-Bethany’s case, a staggering seven-figure fine. The mighty board proclaimed the penalty a “test case” (read: making an example). Well, the board made an example all right. Of how a mouse can roar.

The water district hired crack attorneys. Westside turned to the firm that wrangled a tolerable deal out of a roomful of hostile state attorneys hellbent on cramming three new prison facilities down Stockton’s throat.

By all accounts, the attorneys picked apart and disproved the state’s allegations. Suddenly the mighty state board decided hearing more from the feeble little water districts was not necessary. According to this op-ed piece, the state arbitrarily closed the hearing process before the lawyers could feast on the board’s errors. The board appears to have been laying low ever since.

Did I mention that the op-ed piece was co-authored by a bipartisan quartet of heavyweight representatives? Congressman Jeff Denham R-Turlock, state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani D-Stockton, Assemblyman Adam Gray and San Joaquin Supervisor Bob Elliott called the state board’s action “a misguided, ill-informed attempt to flex its regulatory muscle” and demanded the board dismiss its action.

So this may indeed be a test case: of how an ill-informed state bureaucracy can be routed and forced into their Sacramento bomb shelter by little guys defending their rights.