Drought exacerbates water rights debate

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

The California Water Resources Control Board is investigating several complaints by Columbia-area residents concerned that a ranch owner is overdrawing Mormon Creek.

The residents allege Gerald Engler is thumbing his nose at downstream neighbors and ignoring state drought conditions while heavily irrigating his Springfield Road fields.

"The creek is dropping down. The problem is really noticeable," said resident Sam Hill.

The Englers say the complaints are part of an ongoing feud and that they are using water they're entitled to.

The disagreements date back at least to the 1950s, when the Englers filed a water right application on Mormon Creek, authorizing them to store 35 acre-feet of water behind a small dam on the property for irrigation purposes. It was protested by dozens of people, but ultimately approved by the state.

More recent complaints revolve around a lawsuit that actually didn't directly involve the Englers.

In that case, a Tuolumne County judge in 2005 ordered that water users on Mormon Creek keep enough water in the creek to keep fish alive.

For the complete story, see the June 13, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.

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