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Water District Accuses California Board Of Overstepping Bounds In Drought Investigation

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California water regulators are accused of going too far by potentially launching a criminal investigation against a local water board official.

The attorney representing the state didn't want to speak on camera, but called the allegations vague and possibly baseless.

The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed a $1.5 million fine against the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, accusing it of pumping 675 million gallons of water from a channel in June, even after state water regulators warned the channels was running too low to provide water.

RELATED: Confusion Reigns Over California Water Rights As Farmers Go Without Water For The First Time In A Century

On June 12, the state cut off water to the district and other senior water rights holders in the region under an emergency curtailment order, an unprecedented step in the fourth year of California's drought. Previously, their water supply was thought untouchable under California's convoluted water system.

RELATED: California Water Rights System Is A Century-Old Knot That Will Be Difficult To Untangle

The hearing is set for March, but while they wait, irrigation district officials believe the state is now unfairly probing beyond the scope of the water usage investigation.

"We have information that the state water board attempted to conduct a criminal background investigation on one of our board members," said attorney Daniel Kelly. "We thought that was highly unusual."

The irrigation district has subpoenaed the state board.

"The subpoena that we sent to the state water board to understand under what authority they can conduct those background checks and number two what they learned from those background checks," Kelly said.

The irrigation district wants to know how far the state is allowed to go.

"That's what we're trying to find out. Is this highly unusual or is this something the state agency does on a routine bases? I just simply don't know," he said.

The subpoena demands an answer from the state board by Feb. 16, more than a month before the March 21 hearing.

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