SACRAMENTO — Junior water rights holders in the San Joaquin River watershed south of here are the latest to receive orders to stop diverting because of California’s drought.
Notices were sent to about 1,634 holders of “appropriative” water rights whose land isn’t directly abutting a waterway and whose right was issued after 1914, the State Water Resources Control Board explained.
The watershed encompasses areas near the river and its tributaries, including the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers as well as many creeks, according to a water board news release.
The curtailment notices issued May 30 came three days after the board issued similar orders to more than 2,600 water agencies and users in the Sacramento Valley to stop pumping from streams.
“The State Water Board is encouraging diverters to work together to reach local voluntary agreements that not only provide solutions that help local communities with water shortages, but also prevent impacts to other legal users of water and do not cause unreasonable effects on fish and wildlife,” executive director Thomas Howard told users in his May 27 notice.
The state has said it will take voluntary conservation measures and agreements into account when it issues the orders. Among those who have been conserving is Tyler Christensen, who farms walnuts, almonds and plums for prunes near Red Bluff, Calif.
Christensen said recently his family’s livestock operation, which has 700 acres of irrigated pasture, is in the most danger of losing water. He said the family agreed to only divert from a nearby creek for intermittent three-day periods to maintain flows.
Still, Christensen calls the threat of curtailments “a huge erosion of our water rights.”
“It’s pretty scary,” he said. “They’re really after us.”
The curtailments are the latest moves in a delicate balancing act that state and federal water managers are attempting with limited water resources in a third straight year of drought.
Late-season rains allowed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to boost allocations to the most senior of rights holders along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. However, many farmers without senior rights are left with no water this summer and some of them have taken to bulldozing orchards and fallowing land.
California Citrus Mutual has warned that as many as 50,000 acres of trees in Kern, Tulare and Kings counties could be taken out of production if more water isn’t allowed to flow through the Friant-Kern Canal, the primary source for the state’s $1.5 billion citrus crop.
CCM officials are set to hold a news conference June 6 with state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, in a Bakersfield citrus orchard to drum up support for a water bond of as much as $11 billion set for the November ballot.
Several bills to spell out language in the bond measure are working their way through the Legislature, and any money for additional water storage would help the industry in the long run, CCM spokeswoman Alyssa Houtby said.
“It doesn’t really help us in the immediate term, but we definitely are supportive of a bond passing,” she said.
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 back 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. The late-season rains delayed the necessity of curtailments, but now that the rains have stopped, flows are beginning to decline, state officials have said.
State Water Resources Control Board: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com