June 17, 2015
A Northern California community already is faced with losing its water supply after the drought-stricken state took the drastic step of suspending water-access rights established as far back as 1903.
The State Water Resources Control Board announced the move June 12, suspending access to water for 114 so-called senior rights-holders, all in hardest-hit Northern California.
The community of Mountain House, about an hour east of San Francisco, is now days away from running out of water, according to local reports. That's because its only supplier, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, was one of the senior rights-holders put on notice Friday.
The state warns more hardship could be on the horizon.
“Curtailment notices for other watersheds and for more senior water-rights holders in these watersheds may be imminent,” state officials said in a statement, as the drought heads into the peak summer-growing season.
The move marked the first time since the drought began that senior rights — or water rights established after 1903 and before 1914 — have been curtailed. Officials said this hasn't happened since the late 1970s.
In Mountain House, the shut-off announcement has sent community officials scrambling to find alternative suppliers. The district also serves about 160 farmers whose annual crops and livelihood are now in jeopardy.
“My wife thinks I’m nuts,” resident Anthony Gordon told a Sacramento-area CBS affiliate. “I have like 500 gallons of drinking water stored in my home.”
General Manager Ed Pattison told the TV station he was confident he could find an alternative supplier before the water runs out but acknowledged that would be only a short-term fix.
Still, the curtailment didn’t come as a surprise. The state sent two letters earlier this year warning all rights-holders about the situation. And 5,000 curtailment notices were issued last year, state officials said.
The state already has suspended 162 other senior rights and 8,721 junior rights, or those established after 1914. All of them are connected to the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds and Delta.
Violators face a maximum fine of $1,000 a day and $2,500 per "acre-foot of water unlawfully diverted." Rights established before 1903 have yet to be impacted.
Some water districts reportedly plan to sue the state, arguing it has no legal authority to go after these long-standing water rights.
In April, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, mandated that cities and towns cut water use by 25 percent as of June 1. State records show residents have since used less water but apparently not enough to meet the mandatory cuts and deadline.