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Appeals court denies bid for more irrigation water

Published on March 8, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on April 5, 2013 7:56AM


Capital Press

A group of farmers in California has failed to convince a federal appeals court that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owes them more irrigation water.

"The amount of water the farmers want is just that -- the amount they want, not an amount to which they are legally entitled," according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Growers who rely on the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project water distribution system claimed the agency unlawfully changed it "from an irrigation project into a fish and wildlife enterprise."

The San Luis Unit Food Producers and several farms filed a complaint alleging the Bureau of Reclamation was obligated to deliver historic water allocations of about 1 million acre-feet a year.

According to the farmers, the agency has drastically reduced their water deliveries in recent years to leave larger amounts in stream for environmental purposes.

Canals, pumps and other facilities now "sit effectively idle" to the detriment of irrigators, whose "farming operations are suffering massive and possibly fatal losses," the farmers allege in their 2009 complaint.

A federal judge rejected their claims in 2011 and the 9th Circuit has now upheld that decision, finding that the Bureau of Reclamation isn't required to deliver more water to irrigators.

"The farmers' claims amount to a broad programmatic attack on the way the Bureau generally operates the Central Valley Project," which isn't a controversy over which the court has jurisdiction, the 9th Circuit said.

For the court to have jurisdiction over the case, the farmers must show the agency was required by law to take a certain action but did not. However, none of the laws they cited actually compel the agency to act, the ruling said.

Federal laws require the Bureau of Reclamation to manage water for irrigation, flood control, electricity and the environment, it is up to the agency "to determine the best way to meet those goals," the 9th Circuit said.


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