Agriculture

Calif. regulators tabbed to deliver most severe cuts to water supplies

As California’s drought continues to worsen, the state’s top regulator announced that water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would be unavailable for all water users moving forward and issuing orders to water users to cut back their use.

The California State Water Resources Control Board announced at 5:30 p.m. on Friday that it issued a notice of water unavailability to the region’s senior water rights holders on June 15.

“The June 15 notice also warned all pre-1914 appropriative and riparian water right claimants in the Delta watershed of impending water unavailability based on worsening drought conditions and the resulting likelihood of consideration of an emergency regulation to curtail water use throughout the Delta watershed,” the board said in an announcement.

In the hierarchy of California water rights, pre-1914 appropriative and riparian water are among the senior-most rights holders to various watersheds in the state.

The proposed order includes a number of carveouts for specific, so-called “non-consumptive” uses.

The exceptions – which do not require prior approval from the State Water Board – include diversions for hydroelectric power generation, diversions for the benefit of fish and wildlife so long as the targeted stream is connected to the source, irrigating lands within the so-called “legal Delta” boundaries so long key metrics demonstrate such irrigation does not increase depletion of Delta channels.

The board’s proposed regulation also allows water diversions to continue from the Delta for health and safety needs of communities without prior approval, however those diversions are capped at 55 gallons per person per day.

The proposed regulation, which also steps up reporting of water use by all water rights holders, is scheduled to be considered by the State Water Board on Aug. 3.

Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R–Fresno) said the proposed regulation would serve as a punishing hit on California’s already-struggling ag industry as it attempts to continue feeding the nation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of weaponizing regulatory flexibility to slash agricultural jobs and curtail food production, the Water Board should focus on keeping California’s economy and nation’s food supply chain at the forefront of its agenda,” Borgeas said. “To accomplish this Governor Newsom should issue formal instructions to the relevant divisions of the state that they must prioritize human welfare and food production during this declared state of emergency.”

According to an announcement by the Board, the regulation would remain into effect for a one year after approval, but could be repealed if conditions improve or be readopted by the State Water Board if conditions continue or worsen.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.