Farms Along California Delta In Jeopardy Amid Fears Senior Water Rights Could Be Curtailed

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The water crisis in California is so severe that State Water Resources Control Board has suggested it may soon approve emergency drought measures preventing landowners with pre-1914 water rights from diversions within the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, according to Western Farm Press

The board’s decision will be made during an Aug. 3-4 meeting. If the new measure is approved, notices throughout the expansive inland river delta and estuary in Northern California will curtail water diversions to protect dwindling supplies amid a megadrought

For the last century, the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, or California Delta, has been claimed for agriculture use. 

There are about 5,000 users in the Delta area, with exemptions only for human health and safety and non-consumptive uses. Most farmers within the Delta have pre-1914 rights and have been managing to bring their crops to harvest.

Ashley Lorenzo of Great Valley Poultry in Manteca told Farm Press that if water diversions for senior rights holders were halted, it could force many farm operators into financial disaster. 

“As it stands right now, everything seems to be okay,” Lorenzo said in late June. “We try to conserve as much as we can.”

In recent weeks, the board has increased restrictions on water usage, issuing stop-diversion notices to 4,300 junior rights holders in the Delta. 

Pre-1914 water rights along the California Delta are considered senior. If the new measure is passed next week, rights holders would have seven days to confirm in writing that they have stopped drawing water. 

The implications for senior water rights to be curtailed could be damaging to crops produced along the Delta. It’s one of America’s most productive farming regions and is a multi-billion local economy. 

The Delta is also considered the nexus of California’s water system. Besides surrounding farmland, the water is also exported to supply 23 million people in Southern California.   

The latest US Drought Monitor data from July 22 shows much of California is in an “extreme drought.” 

It’s only a matter of time before California and other Western US states prepare for additional water shortage measures. There’s also the possibility the first-ever federally declared water shortage could be issued. 



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