As California's extreme drought conditions continue resulting in insufficient water supplies to adequately meet the anticipated needs of many water districts, the State Water Resources Control Board will be taking steps to curtail junior water rights on all streams flowing to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in an effort to protect the state's most senior water users from experiencing shortages.
According to the State Water Board, junior water-rights holders have been receiving curtailment notices to stop diverting water from the San Joaquin River watershed and allow it to flow to more senior water-right holders, as required by state law.
As California water rights law is based on seniority, those with more junior water rights may be required to stop diverting water from rivers and streams before the board imposes restrictions on senior water-right holders, or those established over 100 years ago. Under the state's water rights system of "first in time, first in right," junior water-rights holders are those with permits, licenses, registrations and certificates issued after 1914 by the State Water Board and its predecessors, also referred to as "post-1914 appropriative rights."
With the curtailment affecting water-rights holders in the San Joaquin River watershed, which includes many creeks and rivers draining to the river, the South Delta, the Stanislaus River, Tuolumne River, the Merced River and all other portions and tributaries of the San Joaquin, local water districts such as the Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District have been closely monitoring the State Water Board's actions.
As California's oldest irrigation district, with a history dating back to 1887, TID spokesperson Calvin Curtin says that with the state's recent junior water-rights curtailment notice, the district's water rights should be protected under the state's seniority laws.
"At this point we haven't seen a curtailment order for senior water-right holders, and are taking a ‘wait-and-see' approach to see whether or not the state will take any actions that will apply to us," said Curtin. "You would think because we have the oldest water rights in this region that we'd be protected. But for now, we'll just continue monitoring it closely and, if and when a curtailment order is issued for senior water-right holders, we'll take a look at the notice and read the language carefully so that we can figure out how to move forward from there."
Although the first informational notices targeted at junior water right holders were sent out in early January, notifying holders that they may be directed to cease or reduce water diversions from streams and rivers later in the season due to low water conditions, the State Water Board and the Department of Water Resources are now requiring curtailment notice recipients to respond with confirmation that the water diversions have stopped.
According to state water officials, the Board and Department will continue to monitor watersheds subject to curtailment to assure compliance with the notice and whether further action will be necessary, such as placing more restrictions on those with San Joaquin water rights, including senior holders.
"We're going to do everything that we can to protect our water rights," said TID Board president and farmer Ron Macedo. "Right now we're just waiting to see what the Board plans to do, monitoring the situation closely, and will continue conserving water and doing all that we can for the sake of our District."
The State Water Board was set to consider a resolution regarding drought-related emergency regulations its meeting today in Sacramento, but that has been postponed until July 1. Curtin says that TID expects to receive more information from state water officials within the next few days.
"Right now we don't know if there will be any restrictions placed on our water-rights," said Curtin. "But within the next few days the State Water Board should be releasing some information so that we can continue keeping a close eye on their thoughts and plans. Hopefully we'll know more by next week."
To learn more about the State Water Board's curtailment process, visit www.swrcb.ca.gov