Capitol Alert

Drought-hammered state curtails junior water rights in Delta, Sacramento River

An aerial view of a grape vineyard near Lodi shows an irrigation channel, center right.
An aerial view of a grape vineyard near Lodi shows an irrigation channel, center right. The Associated Press

Officials in drought-stricken California on Friday ordered farmers and other junior water rights holders in the Sacramento River and Delta watershed to stop diverting water from rivers and streams.

The order marks the second straight year that junior water rights – those established after 1914 – have been curtailed in the area. The measure affects 2,772 rights holders, most of them in agriculture.

The curtailment was widely expected, as are further restrictions as California’s drought stretches into a fourth year. The State Water Resources Control Board curtailed junior water rights in the San Joaquin River and Scott River watersheds last week and has warned that even senior water rights – those claimed before establishment of the state’s water rights permitting process in 1914 – could be curtailed.

Farmers have been hard hit by the drought, with reduced water deliveries forcing them to fallow thousands of acres of land. In cities, Gov. Jerry Brown last month ordered a 25 percent reduction statewide in urban water use.

The order issued Friday covers nearly 27,000 square miles, including the Pit, Feather and American rivers. The water board said in a prepared statement that the drought has left the state with “insufficient water to serve all water-right holders.”

Farmers ordered to stop diverting water could pump more groundwater or buy water from other users.

But for many farmers, said Chris Scheuring, a lawyer for the California Farm Bureau Federation, “A lot are just going to go without.”

He said the order was “not surprising to me at all ... The hydrology’s just not there this year.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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