Discussion on 100-year-old water rights delayed until July

jnsbranti@modbee.comJune 11, 2014 

The State Water Resources Control Board will push back its discussion of curtailing 100-year-old water rights to July 1.

The board planned to bring up the controversial issue at its meeting next week, but apparently its staff needs more time to prepare.

“Our Division of Water Rights has had a number of responsibilities, including issuing curtailment letters to various watersheds, so has been very busy these past several weeks,” Kathie Smith, a spokesperson for the board, explained Wednesday. “We just needed some more time to get language ready for the hearing, so it was rescheduled. These things happen.”

Several Northern San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts have water rights dating back before 1914, which is when the state began regulating such things.

The water board has indicated it will consider a “resolution regarding drought-related emergency regulations for curtailment of diversions to protect senior water rights.”

That could reduce how much water the Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale, Patterson, Merced and South San Joaquin irrigation districts are allowed to divert from the region’s rivers.

Those districts depend on water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and San Joaquin rivers to irrigate farms.

State officials say that after three years of drought, there’s not enough river water to meet everyone’s needs and that the water board needs to protect California’s most senior water users from shortages caused by others who otherwise might take too much.

They contend curtailment simply is a system to protect water rights based on seniority.

But leaders of some irrigation districts don’t trust the state.

The curtailment actions and regulations being considered would “set a very dangerous precedent that could uproot well over 100 years of water rights law and process,” said Peter Rietkerk, the Patterson Irrigation District’s general manager.

“These blanket curtailments will not only impact growers directly this year, but also weaken the water rights foundation on which families, communities, agriculture, financial lending and many related industries have built their legacies,” Rietkerk said.

The exact wording of what the state water board will consider has not been made public.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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