Legal Alerts May 13, 2015

State Board Issues Curtailment Notices of Surface Water Rights Diversions

California Drought Prompts Action


Just as it did in 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board has issued several notices of curtailment for surface water rights holders in various watersheds because California’s extreme drought has resulted in insufficient water supplies to serve all water-right holders. On May 1, the State Board issued a notice of unavailability of water and immediate curtailment for those diverting water in the Sacramento River watershed under post-1914 appropriative rights. The notice explains that most or all pre-1914 rights may also be curtailed later this year.

The State Board’s decision is based on reservoir storage levels and inflow projections and forecasts for future precipitation, or lack thereof. This and other curtailment notices follow the Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 Executive Order continuing California’s drought state of emergency declaration, as well as a measurement of the lowest snowpack levels in recorded history. Decreased surface water suppliers will lead to increased groundwater pumping of already declining supplies.

Five other curtailment notices have been issued in the past month:

  • April 30: Curtailment of Term 91 water rights. Project water from the Central Valley Project or State Water Project is being released to meet water quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed, and those with Term 91 conditions in their water permits and licenses are prohibited from diverting this water pursuant to the curtailment notice.
  • April 23: Curtailment of post-1914 appropriative rights in the San Joaquin River watershed. Pre-1914 rights are also expected to be curtailed later this year.
  • April 23: Curtailment of junior priority class rights in the Scott River watershed.
  • April 17: Curtailment of post-1914 appropriative water rights holders in the Deer Creek watershed and flow requirements for fish protection for all water rights holders.
  • April 3: Curtailment of post-1914 appropriative water rights holders in the Antelope Creek watershed and flow requirements for fish protection for all water rights holders.

The State Board is also reviewing riparian rights and considering curtailments for the San Joaquin River tributaries and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River watershed and Delta.

Failure to comply with these curtailment notices may result in administrative fines, cease-and-desist orders or prosecution in court. The State Board may levy fines of $1,000 per day of violation and $2,500 for each acre-foot diverted in excess of a valid water right. The violation of cease-and-desist orders may result in fines of $10,000 per day.

For more information about how these curtailments will affect your water rights, please contact one of the attorney authors of this legal alert listed at right in the Environmental Law & Natural Resources or Special Districts practice groups, or your BB&K attorney.

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