RED BLUFF, Calif. — Junior water rights holders on three creeks near here could soon be among the first individual landowners in California to be told by the state to stop diverting because of the drought.
The State Water Resources Control Board is preparing to curtail water use along Mill, Deer and Antelope creeks in the northern Sacramento Valley to maintain minimum flows during the migration period for endangered fish.
The board was set to hold a workshop May 20 in Sacramento to consider how to proceed, but it’s likely landowners with the newest rights would see their diversions taken down to zero before landowners next in line would be affected, spokesman Tim Moran said.
“What they do is they determine what the need is — how much water they need to meet the flows they need — then they work backward according to water right priority,” he said.
The creeks — all tributaries of the Sacramento River — provide water for irrigated pasture as well as tree crops, said Kari Dodd, manager of the Tehama County Farm Bureau. The organization was in discussions with state officials last week about the potential shutoff orders, she said.
With California’s storm season at an end and weather warming up, the stop-diversion orders could be the first of many issued around the state as the summer proceeds.
“I think there will be other curtailments in other watersheds,” Moran said. “It’s going to be a tough summer.”
In all, there are 127 diverters in the watersheds of the three creeks, and together they’re allowed to divert as much as 106,000 acre-feet of water per year, Moran said.
Most of the landowners have riparian rights, meaning their land abuts the waterway, and seven have pre-1914 rights. But 19 diverters have neither, so they’d be the first to be affected by curtailments, Moran said.
State officials say minimum flows must be maintained now and at different points of the summer and fall to sustain state and federally listed Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead through critical migration periods.
State scientists refer to these minimum flows as “belly scraping” flows because they ensure that enough water is moving so that fish can make it over the cobbles without getting stranded, the water board explained in a news release.
When there isn’t enough water to meet all rights holders’ needs, those with junior rights must stop diverting under state law to accommodate others whose rights date to before 1914 or whose riparian land is directly abutting a waterway.
The water board warned landowners in certain watersheds earlier this year that curtailments were likely this summer because of a lack of water in the state’s rivers. Late-season rains delayed the necessity of curtailments, but now that the rains have stopped, flows are beginning to decline, state officials said.
State officials said they’d take landowners’ voluntary conservation efforts into consideration and said curtailments on diversions from Mill, Deer and Antelope creeks would be lifted when fish migration patterns end.
State Water Resources Control Board: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov