The time has come.
There’s only so much water to go around, and it’s time for the State Water Resources Control Board to start figuring out how to divvy it up.
It’s certainly no surprise that this year, there simply will not be enough water the satisfy the many farmers, irrigation districts, water agencies and others who hold permits in the Delta watershed; virtually no water user will go untouched. After three years of dry conditions, the state’s largest reservoirs are only about half-full. The meager snowpack, what little of it there was, is already practically gone, and water supply allocations are at near-historic lows. The Executive Director of the State Water Board has already approved several changes to the requirements of the state and federal water projects to meet water quality standards and flow levels in the Delta in order to preserve the water that’s left in the upstream reservoirs. And just last month, the State Water Board notified water rights holders on many Delta tributaries that curtailments were imminent. According to the State Water Board, these curtailments are needed in order to make water available for senior water rights users, for minimal public trust uses, and for minimum health and safety needs. Curtailments are also needed so that water released from upstream reservoirs by the state and federal water projects in order to meet water quality and flow standards is not diverted by other water users.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the State Water Board, the five board members will begin to tackle the tough issues that these extreme dry conditions demand. Besides considering adoption of emergency regulations for three tributaries to the Sacramento River to provide flows for fish passage, the Board will also hold a public workshop to discuss options for deciding who will get how much – if any – of whatever flows in the Delta watershed that might be available.
Although the workshop will be discussing curtailments for post-1914 water rights, the cuts are likely to go much deeper than that. According to the background report for the workshop, by the beginning of June, there won’t be enough water in the Delta for some of those holding pre-1914 rights either. It’s even possible, the report says, that by mid-June diversions in the Delta could be limited to only riparian users, which are typically those who own parcels of land adjacent to a source of water. However, whatever flows there might be, it’s not likely to be enough for even those water users, and they will have to share with other riparian users on a correlative (or reasonable share) basis.
During the workshop, the Board will solicit input from stakeholders and the public on four different methods for curtailing diversions. The options vary in the authorities that the State Water Board would use, the process for determining when flows would be available for diversion, how curtailments would be enforced, whether to use a Term 91 approach or not, and whether decisions would be made on real-time information or on previously reported water use. (Click here for the report which outlines these options.)
The workshop will be held in Sacramento and will also be webcast. The Board will not be taking any formal action during the workshop. The Board’s meeting starts at 9 am, but the workshop is last item on the agenda with several others before it. Other agenda items include an update on the ongoing drought emergency, an informational update on water activities within the Delta by the Delta Watermaster.