- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A California judge has rejected a challenge by a farmers’ group to agricultural water cuts sought by state regulators during the drought.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang in a ruling filed Monday declined to block regulators from enforcing citations of illegal water diversions for crops.

The State Water Resources Control Board has sent thousands of letters to farmers, water districts and corporations holdings rights to divert water from rivers and streams that supplies were running too low in the fourth year of drought to meet demand.

Chang previously ruled that the state’s initial notices violated farmers’ rights because they ordered the farmers to immediately stop taking water without a hearing. The state sent new letters stripped of mandatory-sounding language, but maintained it still has the power to fine those who take water even after they are told there’s not enough.

Attorneys for irrigation districts serving farmers in the Central Valley said the new letters are still illegal.

Chang’s ruling affirmed her comments during a hearing Friday in which she said the state’s new approach is acceptable.

The West Side Irrigation District in Tracy says regulators retaliated against it for its legal challenge by filing a cease-and-desist order to stop taking water. Officials with the water board say the investigation was underway before the lawsuit was filed.

Attorneys for the irrigation districts challenging the cuts did not immediately return calls and an email seeking comment.

The case is one of several contesting the state’s authority to restrict farmers’ access to water from rivers and streams.

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