On April 4, the State Water Resources Control Board gave a sober warning to more than 36,000 water rights holders across the state of California. Due to California's continuing drought and extremely low snowpack levels, their water rights are likely to be curtailed, and soon. This came right on the heels of Governor Brown announcing stricter urban water conservation requirements by Executive Order on April 1.

While the Governor’s Executive Order was directed at community water use, the warning by the Water Resources Control Board was to provide water rights holders in agriculture enough advance notice that they could make difficult spring planting decisions.

The State Water Resources Control Board warned the holders of more than 36,000 water rights across the state, including some senior right holders, that their rights are likely to be curtailed soon due to California’s ongoing drought and record-low snowpack. The warning is designed to give water right holders advance notice to help them make difficult spring planting decisions. The availability of water is a key factor in those planting decisions. The warning is the second one this year; the first was issued in January.

Drought 2015 350“These are very difficult times, and everyone, urban and rural, will have to make sacrifices as we go through them,” said State Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “As we deal with an unprecedented drought, both urban and rural water users should anticipate we will continue to take unprecedented actions.”

If dry conditions continue through the spring, curtailments are expected in certain watersheds on all post-1914 water rights, and many holders of pre-1914 water rights may get curtailment notices as well, according to a State Board release. Riparian water right holders in some watersheds also are likely to be required to reduce their diversions and share what supplies of natural flow remains.

To read more about the California drought, browse to the the US Geological Survey website

According to a press release from the State Board, curtailment is a tool that the State Board uses to administer the state’s water rights system. When there is insufficient water available to meet all the demand in a watershed, water right holders, starting with the most junior, are told to stop diverting surface water to protect the rights of more senior right holders. Last summer, water rights dating back to 1914 were curtailed on most of the state’s major river systems.

The curtailment warning comes on the heels of stricter urban water conservation requirements and an Executive Order announced by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1. The Governor’s Executive Order further restricts outdoor irrigation and other water uses by city dwellers. The actions are a response to another extremely dry winter and a snowpack measured this week at 6% of normal.

Last year curtailments affected more than 5,000 water rights, contributing to conditions that led to the fallowing of more than 400,000 acres of farmland and the loss of thousands of agricultural jobs - a situation that’s likely to be repeated this year. While the water right curtailments predominantly affect agriculture, they also apply to water rights held by municipalities and other water users.

The timing of curtailment notices will be based on forecasts of water availability and demand. Forecasting information and estimated timing of curtailments for various classes of water right holders will be available on the Association of California Water Agencieswebsite.

Originally posted to The Association of California Water Agencies by Pamela Martineau on Fri, 04/03/2015 

- The Wine & Vineyard Law Team
  Rogers Sheffield & Campbell, LLP


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