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Water Cuts For Oldest Water Right Holders

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Sacramento, CA — The State Water Board has notified pre-1914 water right holders in the Sacramento, San Joaquin and delta watersheds that they are under curtailment orders. PG&E is one of hundreds that fall under the new order, spokesperson Paul Moreno says, “PG&E is reviewing the State Water Resource Control Board Order.” He notes, “This may not apply to our storage water rights for Lyons and Pinecrest reservoirs because our water rights are from the 19th century and pre-date what appears to be impacted today.”

Moreno noted that PG&E has a lot of water rights to review but, “98% of them are non consumptive, meaning we simply divert water from rivers for power generation and then we return the water to those systems. Of the consumptive water we do own, most of those are committed to long term contracts.” When asked specifically about the agreement with Tuolumne Utitities District, Moreno added, “Water rights are very detailed and very complicated.”

In times of drought and limited supply, the most recent (“junior”) right holder must be the first to discontinue use. According to the State Water Board, “Even more senior water right holders, such as some riparian and pre-1914 water right holders may also receive a notice to stop diverting water, if their diversions are downstream of reservoirs releasing stored water and there is no natural flow available for diversion.”

Today’s order is the largest cut on record for farmers in the Delta, who hold some of the state’s strongest water rights.

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is also on the list. SPI spokesperson Mike Woiciki says the order probably pertains to ranch land in Northern California and not to SPI’s local lumber mill. Oakdale Irrigation District falls under the new order and released this statement “An order by the state that restricts water access for agencies with century-old water rights is unjustified and likely illegal.” The full statement is here. 

According to General Manager Tom Scesa, TUD’s water rights are all more recent than 1914. TUD and other local water agencies are already under order by the state to cut back. Utica Power Authority, which provides water to Angels Camp and Murphys has some of the older water rights in the area, but they are not listed in the new order.