In a move not seen since California was gripped by drought in the 1970s the California State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) has sent notices of curtailment orders directing senior water rights holders in the Delta, San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds to curtail water diversions.

The new curtailment orders effect senior water rights holds with Pre-1914 water rights, specifically those whose water rights have a priority date of 1903 or later.

The notices of curtailment will direct the recipients to stop diversions of water in order to protect those who have senior (older) Pre-1914 water rights. The notices have been sent to 114 rights holders (86 water rights holder in the Sacramento River watershed and 14 rights holders each in the San Joaquin River and Delta watersheds).

Senior water rights holders who violate the order could face fines of $1,000.00 for each day the holder diverts water, and $2,500.00 per acre foot of water diverted.

The Water Board will assess water availability and whether additional curtailment orders are necessary on a weekly basis.  This means that additional senior water rights holders, those who have senior water rights that predate 1903, could face curtailment orders in the future.

Pre-1914 water rights are considered sacrosanct. Given recent activity by the Water Board, and California’s groundwater legislation, the legislature and governor appear to be using the drought as a stage to change the entire dynamic of the state’s water rights system.