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Irrigation company sues conservation district

Tuesday, May 6 —  The Lassen Irrigation Company and the Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation District are headed to court in a dispute over water rights and the district’s complaint resolution procedures.

The irrigation company seeks damages, injunctive and declaratory relief and a writ of mandate in the action that names the district, its board of directors (Ramsey Wood, John Bentley, Ruth Dike, Willis Dow and Jesse Claypool), its acting general manager (Tim Keesey) and the junior watermaster (Curtis White, also known as Jeff White) and as many as 100 unnamed individuals.

According to the irrigation company’s complaint, the “defendants have failed to comply with their mandatory duties and in the process have violated LIC’s constitutional due process and other rights. LIC is therefore compelled to file this action seeking a writ, injunctive and declaratory relief, in addition to damages, required defendants to comply with their mandatory obligations to provide LIC with all of the water to which it is entitled, as well as other relief related to the Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation District operations.”

The irrigation district, a nonprofit corporation, serves approximately 70 to 80 shareholders who use water to irrigate land within Lassen County.

According to the court filing, “This dispute involves the waters of the Susan River” and the surface waters based upon the water rights of B.H. Leavitt in the 1880s. Leavitt constructed the irrigation company’s diversion system that has operated continuously since its construction bringing water from McCoy Flat Reservoir and Hog Flat Reservoir. The irrigation company obtained the system in 1905

While a 1940 court decree estimates the storage of Leavitt Lake and the two reservoirs at about 31,500 acre feet, in April 2013 White notified the irrigation company it has exhausted its diversion rights when it had obtained 26,000 acre feet of water, “which he contends is the present capacity of LIC’s reservoirs based on capacity curves from the 1970s,” according to the court documents.

In addition, the irrigation company alleges the district did not follow its own complaint resolution process and denied it due process.

According to the complaint, “Under the cloak of a closed session proceeding and based on an illegal secret vote, the HLVRCD determined LIC was limited to the 26,000 acre feet despite the existence of the specified bypass flow,” and “Respondents ignored and completely failed to adhere to the grievance procedures used by the HLVRCD for the resolution of water disputes … ”

LIC seeks the writ of mandate because, “Monetary damages would not afford sufficient and adequate relief, so therefore LIC is entitled to an injunction directing and ordering defendants to immediately cease all actions taken contrary to and in violation of their mandatory and ministerial duties under the 1940 decree.”

LIC also seeks exemplary and punitive damages because White and Keesey “acted deliberately, intentionally, maliciously and in wanton and reckless disregard of LIC’s rights under the 1940 decree.”

The irrigation company also alleges the district failed to “prepare, file and serve” budgets in the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and, “as a result, LIC and other water rights holders were unable to raise and have resolved any objections contemplated by the watermaster order prior to the imposition of the apportionments for each of the subject years.”

Because the LIC alleges it paid excessive apportionments, it “seeks a court-ordered accounting of the applicable HLVRCD financial records in order to establish and confirm the correct budget and apportionment.”

The LIC also alleges the district violated its equal protection rights.

The HLVRCD has not yet responded to the allegation in the LIC complaint. The district board discussed the lawsuit during the closed session portion of a special meeting held April 29, but took no reportable action.

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