The water rights shuffle

Then, earlier this month, the State Water Resources Control Board sent a notice to Diverters of Surface Water alerting them to lower-than-average storage levels in reservoirs resulting from two years of record dry and warm conditions.  “For 2013,” they note, “the combined total precipitation for the months of January through May is the driest in about 90 years of record.”

Operators of the State and federal water projects are going to have to release supplemental stored water to meet Delta water quality standards and in-basin entitlements.  (“In-basin entitlements” refers to a class of holders of water rights in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins that includes cities.)  When they release that stored water, users of surface water with what are called Term 91 permits can’t divert water as they ordinarily would.  The Board warned that “water in the fall for uses such as planting winter crops may only be available to the most senior water right holders.”  If these conditions continue, even holders of senior water rights might see their diversions restricted.

In other words, the Water Board is approving water transfer petitions that create new uses of water at a time when existing water users are asked not to divert.  This means the Board is violating water rights law and the doctrine of prior appropriation.  This is because the Board regulates to benefit the water projects rather than to benefit ALL water rights holders.

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