California towns and farms ordered to stop diverting water

In response to California’s extreme drought, state water regulators have ordered many farmers, agricultural districts and cities to stop diverting water from rivers and streams along the San River. Joaquin.

Starting Wednesday, the State Water Resources Control Board is making “significant and very deep reductions” to water users, primarily in the San Joaquin River watershed, said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the division of water resources. State Water Board water rights.

A total of 4,571 water rights and claims are restricted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed, affecting more than 2,000 water rights holders, state officials said. This includes 212 public drinking water systems, including San Francisco, as well as a list of major agricultural irrigation districts and hundreds of individual farmers.

The state sent reduction notices to a larger group of about 4,500 water rights holders in August. Records show this is out of a total of over 16,000 water rights holders.

The latest restrictions affect water supplies from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission as well as the East Bay Municipal Utilities District and other municipal providers. Others whose supplies are cut off include agricultural water districts such as Merced Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, and El Irrigation District. Dorado, according to state records.

San Francisco’s assigned water rights are on the Tuolumne River and have been in use since before 1914. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission depends on the Tuolumne River for 85% of its supplies; the rest comes from local supplies in the Bay Area.

“Our main drinking water reservoir on the Tuolumne, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, is full, as is the Cherry Reservoir,” said SFPUC spokesman Joseph Sweiss. “To date, we have called for an 11% reduction in demand in our customer service area of ​​2.7 million overall as our primary response to the drought.”

The past three years have been among the driest on record in California, and scientific research shows that global warming has intensified extreme aridity across the West for the past 22 years.

According to the State Water Board, the cuts will reduce diversions by about 443,000 acre-feet in June — which, for comparison, is almost 90% of the average annual water use in Los Angeles.

State records show 3,349 water rights being reduced in the San Joaquin watershed, while an additional 1,222 rights are being removed in parts of the Sacramento River watershed, including along of Bear Creek, Cache Creek and Putah Creek, among others.

Some of the entities with a large number of restricted rights include Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest and other public lands, as well as Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

California’s water rights system allows regulators to restrict rights and stop diversions based on the year a rights holder began using the water. The latest cuts affect many lower priority junior water rights, but some senior rights dating back to the early 1900s are also affected.

“In the San Joaquin, we expect reductions to decline through 1900 in priority, with some sub-watersheds in the 1910s to 1920s,” Ekdahl said Tuesday at a meeting of the San Joaquin water board. ‘State. “In the Sacramento watershed, we don’t actually expect any significant reductions at this time,” except for some smaller tributaries.

Large amounts of water are usually diverted to supply vast agricultural lands where almonds, pistachios, grapes, alfalfa for livestock and other crops grow. Water deliveries for agriculture have already been drastically reduced during the drought, forcing farmers to drain some land or pump more groundwater, which has rapidly diminished in many areas.

The latest restrictions will have major effects in agricultural areas, said Danny Merkley, director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau.

“It’s a big impact, and it’s a big impact on all the communities that depend on it,” Merkley said. He said that given the current situation, cuts were inevitable. The members of the state water board, he said, “take care of the hand that’s been given to them, the other priorities that the state has put on the water.”

Merkley said he hopes the cuts don’t lead to food shortages or major food price hikes, “because I really don’t want to depend on China or Mexico or South America for my food supply.

He said the cuts show California should move faster on water storage projects, including the proposed sites reservoir project, as well as projects to catch water during wet years to recharge aquifers. underground.

On Friday, under a separate order, Ekdahl said, 125 additional water users in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed were ordered to stop diverting water.

The State Water Board also on Tuesday approved an agreement that allows those with water rights along the Upper Russian River to voluntarily use less water and share the water they have. Sam Boland-Brien, a supervising engineer with the state board, praised the cooperation that made the deal possible, saying it “shows what can be accomplished when state and local entities work together to find solutions”.

Bernard P. Love