Legal Alerts Jul 09, 2019

Irrigation District May Refuse Water Delivery to Rule Violators

Calif. Appellate Court Decision May Also Apply to Other Types of Water Providers

Irrigation District May Refuse Water Delivery to Rule Violators

An irrigation district may adopt and enforce reasonable rules related to water service, and may terminate water delivery for failure to comply with such rules, a California appellate court ruled. Although this case involved an irrigation district, the decision may also strengthen other water providers’ authority to adopt and enforce rules relating to water service.
 
In Inzana v. Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors, the issue was the District’s rule prohibiting planting “in, on, over, or across” any District easement or right of way in a manner that interferes with its maintenance or operation obligations. The District rules also say that the District can terminate water service to any landowner who fails or refuses to comply with any District rules or regulations.
 
In 2014, the District notified the plaintiff, a landowner, that his 160 newly planted pistachio trees were too close to a District pipeline easement and the trees could “eventually cause a maintenance issue and potential pipeline damage.” The District sent several notices requesting the trees be relocated or removed. After an extended period of attempting to informally resolve the issue, the District board voted to withhold water delivery to the landowner.
 
The landowner sued to prevent the District from withholding water delivery. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal concluded that the District had a rational basis for its rules because the Water Code required the District to adopt rules to carry out its duties to deliver water. The court further held that the District’s decision ordering the tree removal was supported by substantial evidence and, given that the easement was in place when he became the landowner, did not unreasonably interfere with the landowner’s rights.
 
Notably, the opinion affirmed the District’s right to terminate water deliveries to landowners who refuse to comply with its rules. By authorizing the District to do any act “necessary to furnish sufficient water” and to “put to any beneficial use any water under its control,” the Legislature empowered the District to terminate water deliveries for those rule violations.
 
This decision could potentially apply to water providers that are not irrigation districts depending on their particular statutory authority and adopted rules. As an example, county water districts may “establish rules and regulations for the sale, distribution, and use of water” and may “do any act necessary to furnish sufficient water in the district for any present or future beneficial use.” Accordingly, the Inzana case may strengthen other types of water providers’ enforcement powers if the violation interferes with the water provider’s ability to fulfill its legal obligations.
 
For more information about this decision and how it may impact your agency, contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Special Districts and Environmental Law and Natural Resources practice groups, or your BB&K attorney.
 
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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