The ongoing plaint throughout the room before, during, and after Thursday’s Ag Scholarship Luncheon in Oakdale was about, “sending our water down the river for fish.” Though she’s a partner in the highly-regarded law firm of Paris and O’Laughlin, attorney Valerie Kincaid didn’t offer much in the way of hope for a quick legal fix.
Kincaid was the featured speaker for an audience of well over one-hundred concerned citizens, many of them local farmers worried about severe cutbacks in water allocations for agriculture
Kincaid said three issues were threatening the region’s water rights. At the state level, concerns over water quality were behind decisions to change flow requirements along major rivers. Locally, new regulations require much stricter control of groundwater usage. And at the federal level, the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to provide more water for fish populations.
“A lot of these battles are going to be waged in the courtroom,” she said, as audience members sought answers to their questions about senior water rights and the state’s authority to change the rules.
When Mike Tozzi, one of several local homeowners whose wells ran dry last year asked whether she thought the Public Trust Doctrine applied to groundwater, Kincaid said she believes the Public Trust Doctrine does apply but that there were also good reasons to separate regulation of groundwater from regulation of surface water.
Kincaid’s audience might well have gotten their best clue about her outlook on the future when she recommended that those with lots of irrigated acreage, “diversify your portfolio.”
Before she specialized in water and land use issues, Kincaid’s legal expertise was devoted to finance and derivatives. Thursday, she seemed to be telling farmers who’ve bet their futures on a continuing boom in almonds that the climate, the law, and the water supply are presenting ever steeper odds against a sustainable future for a region too dependent on permanent crops.