Water rights are property rights too!

December 21, 2018 | By ERIN WILCOX
Serene stream flowing through nature's beauty.

Stanford Vina Ranch Irrigation Company is a California non-profit water company that has been lawfully using water from Deer Creek for irrigation since 1862.

When drought struck the state in 2014 and again the following year, California’s State Water Resources Control Board ordered Stanford Vina to stop using water from Deer Creek or face serious penalties. With no other option, Stanford Vina complied, suffering major losses of crops and livestock.

Water rights, like those belonging to Stanford Vina, are property rights. Under the California and U.S. Constitutions, the government can’t take your property without two things: due process and just compensation. Unfortunately for Stanford Vina, it got neither.

Instead of due process, Stanford Vina got barely five days’ notice that the Water Board was planning to meet to take away its water rights. While the Water Board’s staff had plenty of time to give their lengthy presentation on why Stanford Vina’s water rights should be taken away, Stanford Vina was limited to a five minute public comment period.  When Stanford Vina repeatedly asked for a hearing with the chance to ask questions and present evidence, it was turned down because a hearing would take too much effort.

Instead of just compensation for the loss of its property, Stanford Vina got nothing. When the government takes your property—like your house or your land—it is supposed to pay you a fair price for it.  The state claims it doesn’t owe Stanford Vina anything in this case because the water was being taken for the benefit of the public.  Unfortunately for the state, that’s not a valid excuse – when the government takes private property, it must pay just compensation.  Plain and simple.

Stanford Vina challenged the state’s wrongdoing in court, and PLF is proud to support Stanford Vina with a friend of the court brief filed this week in the Third District Court of Appeals.  For over 150 years, Stanford Vina’s pioneering spirit and tenacity has made it possible for farmers and ranchers to build a strong and vibrant California.  A handful of overzealous bureaucrats don’t stand a chance.