A gutsy bid to excuse a joint powers authority comprised of 16 water agency members of the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority located north of the storied Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from sharing in water shortages has left them high and dry. In a definitive federal court ruling from a federal judge who has ruled on a lion’s share of water allocation disputes, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) has preserved a right to decide when and how it distributes water under contracts that come under the scrutiny of the State Water Resources Control Board and drive the federal Central Valley Project operations.
The court’s decision in Tehama Colusa Canal Authority v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior broadly interpreted the USBR’s discretion to basically ignore what are known as “area of origin” protections under California Water Code § Section 11460. In the court’s unequivocal view, “The reality of the state area of origin priority statutes is that no express water rights are created by the law.”
In the old tradition that “bad cases make bad law”, many north of Delta water users might have preferred not to have this 88 page paper trail when seeking to vindicate local protections considered decades old and highly treasured in the north versus south water wars. Alas, the quiver is now short by at least one arrow.