The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has passed emergency curtailments for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed. Approximately 5,700 water rights holders are expected to be impacted by the order, according to the SWRCB. Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition, Mike Wade expressed disappointment that better preparation was not made to prevent this type of action.
“The State Boards’ action I think is a reflection of certainly how bad the water year is. But more so, how badly we’ve prepared for droughts like this,” said Wade. “We haven’t built any significant new storage. The conveyance facilities we have are in dire need of repair and if the investment had occurred over the years to help us meet those demands we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now.”
The SWRCB had previously issued a notice of unavailability for all post-1914 water rights holders in the Delta back in June. The scope of the latest action taken by the SWRCB will now cover senior water rights holders. Some agricultural organizations and irrigation districts have raised questions regarding the SWRCB’s authority to impose restrictions on those with pre-1914 water rights.
“It is unprecedented,” said Wade. “I’m not aware of a time when a state agency has exercised that authority on water rights holders that pre-date the existence of the authority granted to the agency. Meaning, those existed long before the water board was ever created.”
The emergency curtailments that have been adopted will be put into effect in the coming weeks. Wade noted that it is unclear at this point whether any lawsuits will be filed objecting to the curtailments. Regardless, the action taken by the SWRCB will have a significant impact on farmers and ranchers moving forward. “The fact is, we have a lot of farmers now that are going to be without water for the remainder of the year. It’s going to affect late-season irrigation. It’s going to affect orchards that have to have post-harvest irrigation to prepare the crop for next year,” Wade explained.