Senior water rights curtailed in parts of California

california drought photo
Photo by docentjoyce

This is a big deal. Under arcane and archaic California water law, those with the oldest rights have highest priority. The State Water Board just took the highly unusual step of curtailing senior water rights in the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds and Sacramento Delta with a priority date of 1903 or later. This has only happened once before, in the 1970’s, and was not as extensive.

Most of the affected rights holders are agricultural and livestock, so food availability and prices may be impacted. However, enforcement of water law is spotty at best in California, as it relies on a voluntary system of reporting. A big operation facing millions in losses is going to report every drop it uses. Right.

Plus, for those with deep pockets, they can simply pump more groundwater or drill more wells, as doing so is barely regulated in California. Yes, there is a nasty drought. However at least some of California’s problems are of its own making because of its lax water law.

Today’s action is based on reported diversion demands, estimates of natural flows and actual stream flows. Conditions in these and other watersheds continue to be monitored, and curtailment notices for other watersheds and for more senior water right holders in these watersheds may be imminent.

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