To some, the sound of one set of creek-fed sprinklers, is the sound of brief relief in the midst of California’s intensifying drought. To others, it’s the sound of theft.
“It’s just the fact that it’s a drought year and that the law should be equal across the board – no selective law enforcement here or anywhere.”
The man complaining is just one of many folks along Highway 49 near Sonora who don’t want to reveal their identifies for fear of neighbor retaliation. They fear that reprisal would come because of their efforts to get the state to stop what they see as illegal draws from Mormon Creek for storage.
“If you have a claim for some other water which you do—half a cubic foot—you can’t use the pond to store that water.”
Those are the words of another neighbor who didn’t want to be identified because he’s reported rancher Gerald Engler, Sr, for just that practice.
Though Engler does have some pre-1914 water rights to Mormon Creek—ones not currently affected by drought-induced curtailment orders—critics say Engler’s privilege was gained through extended use over time.
That’s called a prescriptive right and court records indicate prescriptive water rights cannot be increased, and storage counts as a form of increase.
The other complaint of those worried about the creek and the downstream effect of storing water for sprinkler-use is that there’s no way to tell Engler’s pond isn’t collecting more water than he’s allowed. “The fish and game guy comes out and he goes to the pond and he says there’s no measuring device,” said one neighbor.
California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has a stake in the Mormon creek controversy because water levels are supposed to be maintained to keep area fish alive.
Overuse could make it drop even more than it already has.
The Englers declined an on-camera interview about their rights to Mormon Creek.
By phone, the younger Gerald Engler said they’ve “complied with everything they’ve been asked to comply with and that’s all they’re interested in doing.”
He works in the California Attorney General’s office and that’s why some believe there’s been no punishment for water violations while others in the area have faced penalties for less.
The state water resources board expects to complete it’s investigation into this situation within the next two weeks.