sprinkler pipe

Farm worker picking up sprinkler pipe in a newly sprouted field.

Brawley farmer Rusty Jordan continues with his series on water rights, rural to urban water transfers, and ‘right to service.’ In last week’s article, Jordan laid out the argument that solar farms brought little employment and no property taxes to the Valley but sent 100,00 acre/feet of Valley water to urban areas. 

The Imperial Irrigation District has engaged in water conservation agreements with the stated intent to conserve and transfer conserved water while having the District retain the ability to service the crops and lands of the District in full of their need. Because the District has accepted limits to its ‘water rights’ the district may formulate a fair way of dividing the water amongst the lands in case of shortage.

It behooves all to plan and execute such plans early. The contract of the QSA, which limited the rights of the District, stated that if landowners did not participate, they would have the rights in amounts of water as existed before the agreement. The farmers transfer of conserved water was voluntary. The lands that conserve water and are paid, have contracts that limit the amount of water they may receive.

Because the lands are owned ultimately by people, they are the ones that speak to these obligations. The use of words is important. The term ‘right to Service,’ which may be correct, is misleading of a more complex reality. Right to service could fit an apartment’s right to water service or a farm’s, both with huge differences in right and meaning. The Court needs to provide clarity.

In reading the decision, the Court goes into great length to explain its understanding of the rights of the land inside the IID’s jurisdiction and then characterizes these complex rights as ‘right to service.’ Yet the words lend themselves to abuse, which creep into the opinion and can be seen as one reads the opinion. It would be much better to call them ‘rights to water’ which they are, and they reside in land — not people.

The term ‘right to service’ is found in a foot note in the US Supreme court case Yellin vs Bryan. 

The IID is a vessel which holds the water rights to a specific area. The beneficiaries of the vessel’s rights are the lands inside of the service area. The obligation of the District is to serve its water rights to the lands in the district. Is it possible for the same right to be held by two entities at the same time? One being the IID and two being the land in the IID.

I would contend that they are not mutually exclusive. For IID, it cannot use water — only deliver water, its right only has value if used. IID’s right is to deliver and the lands’ right is to receive and apply the water so crops, industry, environment, or people can use the water. To call IID the owner of the ‘water right’ and the user the owner of ‘right to service’ will lead to misunderstanding and produce conflict for no reason. 

(1) comment


In the late 1800s the primary purpose of an irrigation district was to put water to agricultural use, the law expanded to permit irrigation districts to furnish water for "any beneficial use."

The Imperial Irrigation District's 1913 appropriative rights posting included beneficial uses in addition to irrigation, including any uses authorized by amendments to the Irrigation District Act. The District's pre-1914 rights therefore allow any beneficial use recognized by California law.

The Water Code recognizes multiple uses of water within irrigation districts. Section 10826(b)(5) mandates the preparation of agricultural water management plans, addressing water use for agricultural, environmental, recreational, municipal, and industrial purposes. Irrigation districts are defined as "agricultural water suppliers.” Irrigating landowners are defined as "customers." Irrigation use is not the singular purpose of irrigation districts.

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