Drought could impact long-held water rights
California has faced droughts before, but this time may be different.
“The (state) water board is changing direction,” said Leah Wills, Plumas County’s water consultant. “It’s more broad.”
Wills and Planning Director Randy Wilson spoke during the Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 6 meeting about a document released by the State Water Resources Control Board titled “Notice of Surface Water Shortage for 2013.”
“This Water Shortage Notice is different from earlier notices in three major ways,” read a memo from Wilson. “These differences reflect legislative priorities established in the 2009 Delta Reform Act.”
Wilson went on to enumerate the three changes: there is a broader reach, which includes about two-thirds of the state; it reaches deeper by impacting pre-1914 and riparian water rights; and the water board has integrated a portion of the state Constitution into the board’s authority to allocate water shortages among junior and senior water rights holders.
Wills said that past droughts have impacted releases from Shasta and Oroville dams, but now Davis, Frenchman and Antelope could be affected.
“It’s not happened to us before,” she said.
As for pre-1914 and riparian water rights, Wills said, “They are going further than they have in the past.”
Audience member Heather Kingdon asked if the changes were being implemented “for domestic use or for the fish.”
“They have the whole process to decide that,” Wills said.
Kingdon said that she thought many groups would be opposing the new plan.
County Counsel Craig Settlemire said that the discussion was a “heads-up” to let the public know that county staff is aware of the state’s plan and is determining how it will affect Plumas County.
Wills said, “This is not happening right now,” but if there were to be another dry winter, it could.
Water shortage notice
Both Wilson and Wills said that they found the undated water shortage notice released by the state online.
It was addressed to “Diverters of Surface Water and Interested Persons.”
The document began by stating that total rainfall for January through May 2013 was the lowest in 90 years and that reservoir operators were reporting lower-than-average storage levels.
“The California water rights system is designed to provide for the orderly allocation of water supplies in the event that there is not enough water to satisfy everyone’s needs,” the document reads. “When there is insufficient water for all, water diversions are allocated in order of water right priority.”
After a few explanatory paragraphs, it continues: “If water supply conditions do not improve, permit, license and registration holders may see their diversions restricted. It may even become necessary in some parts of the state to restrict more senior water rights, such as riparian rights or pre-1914 rights.”
Attached to the document was a list of irrigation water conservation guidelines.