The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has scheduled a hearing on 8 & 9 March 2011 regarding CSPA’s protest of El Sur Ranch’s water right application on the Big Sur River. In 1990, El Sur Ranch was caught illegally diverting from the river and subsequently, in 1992, filed an application for a water right to continue diversions that have, at times, literally dried up reaches of the river. CSPA and the Department of Fish and Game protested the application.
A Draft Environmental Impact Report of the proposed diversion was prepared in 2009. CSPA and the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Friends of the River, Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Los Padres Forest Watch joined in submitting extensive comments on the EIR.
Finally, after almost two decades of illegal diversions, the SWRCB has scheduled an evidentiary hearing (i.e., testimony under oath, cross examination and rebuttal) in the matter. The deadline for the Notice of Intent to Appear is 14 January. Testimony and exhibits must be submitted by 7 February.
The Big Sur River is designated as Critical Habitat for steelhead under the federal Endangered Species Act. The hearing will provide a critical opportunity to restore flow, water quality and habitat for these endangered species.
The Key Issues of the hearing are:
* Is water available for appropriation under the application? If so, when is water available and under what circumstances, taking into consideration prior rights? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to protect prior rights?
* Will approval of the application result in any significant adverse impacts to water quality, the environment, or public trust resources? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to avoid or mitigate any such potential adverse impacts?
* Will the water be put to reasonable and beneficial use? Is the proposed appropriation in the public interest? If the State Water Board approves the application, what terms and conditions, if any, should the board adopt to ensure that the diversions are in accordance with applicable law and best serve the public interest? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to prevent the waste, unreasonable use, unreasonable method of use, or unreasonable method of diversion of water?
* Should the State Water Board subordinate the priority of the Ranch’s Application 30166 to Clear Ridge’s Application 30946? Would reversal of priority be in keeping with state policy regarding domestic use and serve the public interest?