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Property Owners Fined $10,000 for Deliberate Misstatements on Water Diversion and Use Reports
Two Trinity County property owners have jointly been fined $10,000 over allegations they deliberately made misstatements in reporting water diversion and use for diversion years 2009 through 2015 in spite of receiving a Notice of Violation (NOV) via certified mail in June of 2015 pertaining to the reports they had submitted for years 2009 through 2013.
Louis and Darcy Chacon (the Chacons) claim a riparian right on Price Creek, a tributary to the Trinity River. They use the water for irrigation of 15 acres of mixed crops, stock watering, and domestic use.
The California Water Code defines the making of a willful misstatement in a Statement of Diversion and Use as a misdemeanor. The State Water Resources Control Board has jurisdiction and the authority to impose an administrative civil liability for this violation in an amount not to exceed $25,000, plus $1,000 per day that the violation continues.
“This settlement sends a strong message to individuals who trivialize this important reporting requirement by declaring deliberate misstatements about actual water used,” said Julé Rizzardo, assistant deputy director of the Division of Water Rights, Permitting and Enforcement Branch. “Inaccurate water use data impacts the division’s ability to effectively regulate water diversions and undermines the public’s trust in the water rights system. In high resource value watersheds like the Trinity River, accurate data is essential to ensuring senior water rights and the environment are protected.”
Although the Chacons filed the required Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use, for diversion years 2009 through 2013 they reported monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of over one trillion acre-feet. This amount reflects a volume which is greater than all the water on earth.
Upon receipt of the NOV in mid-2015, the Chacons revised the previously reported diversion amounts to 21,383.04 acre-feet. The revised amounts still reflected diversions greater than reasonable. Nonetheless, the Chacons continued reporting this inflated diversion and use amount for years 2014 and 2015.
On February 16, 2018, the assistant deputy director for the of the Division of Water Rights, Permitting and Enforcement Branch issued an Administrative Civil Liability Complaint (ACLC) against the Chacons. The complaint alleges-that the Chacons knowingly made material misstatements in Supplemental Statements for diversion years 2009 to 2016 by misreporting rates of diversion and quantities diverted and beneficially used in violation of Water Code section 5107.
A portion of the $10,000 settlement fee can be suspended and released if the Chacons complete several corrective actions: hiring a qualified individual to advise on reporting accurate diversion amounts; revise the Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use that contain deliberate misstatements; and install an appropriate measuring device to ensure accurate diversion reporting in the future. Once these corrective actions are completed, the Chacons may reduce their fine by up to $7,500. However, in no case can the penalty amount be less than $2,500.
The state’s water use data is critical to decisions on water right permitting, developing instream flow requirements, assessing compliance, and issuing notices of unavailability of water. The Settlement Agreement also notes that any future violations of the agreement by the Chacons will be subject to further enforcement under Water Code section 1845 at the discretion of the State Water Board.