By Glen C. Hansen
On May 27, 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) issued curtailment notices to all post-1914 appropriative water right holders in the Sacramento-San Joaquin, Russian, and Eel River watersheds. On October 3, 2014, the Executive Director of the Board issued a letter to appropriate water rights holders that discussed the Board’s plan to temporarily lift such curtailments during future rainfall events. (The letter is found at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/docs/curtail_lift.pdf.) Because the conditions in many of the State’s watersheds “continue to demonstrate that there is insufficient water available to meet reported demand,” the Board intends to “temporarily lift curtailments during significant storm events to capture new precipitation.” The Executive Director explained that policy as follows:
Due to the possibility for prolonged dry conditions, the State Water Board does not want to limit the potential for water right holders in the curtailed watersheds to collect water to storage during near-term substantial precipitation events. If dry conditions persist, then it is in the public interest to maximize the amount of water diverted to storage for later beneficial use, particularly given the low storage levels at the outset of the water year. Until the time when curtailments are permanently lifted based on the water availability/demand analysis, the State Water Board plans to provide notice of periodic opportunities during storm events to divert water. Since such notices will be reactive to precipitation events, the State Water Board’s notices will be distributed on a real-time basis solely via email through the Drought email subscription available at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/email_subscriptions/swrcb_subscribe.shtml (select Water Rights and then Drought Updates). Notices will not be mailed out. Should the State Water Board temporarily lift curtailments, you will be authorized to immediately divert water under your post-1914 right, provided your right authorizes diversion at that time and you comply with all other terms and conditions of your right. You are responsible for monitoring your email account and taking immediate action to cease diversion of water under your post-1914 rights should the State Water Board send a follow-up curtailment notice. Failure to cease diversions after that notice will be subject to enforcement.
The State Water Board considers implementation of this real-time early precipitation plan in the public interest because it increases water storage supplies at every opportunity. The State Water Board also considers the potential for injury to most senior water right holders to be minimal. The lifting of curtailment, however, does not release junior water right holders from the standard obligation to allow water to pass for senior diverters when they must do so to satisfy senior water rights. For this reason, water right holders should maintain a record of daily diversions in case a complaint by a senior right holder alleges injury resulting from the diversions. The State Water Board will request such records if complaints are received. Water right holders should monitor the State Water Board’s email notices and/or website to take advantage of these temporary actions. [Bold and italics added.]
Appropriative water rights holders are therefore urged to make sure the Board has their accurate email addresses, and to monitor all correspondence from the Board (or frequently check the Board’s website when there is the possibly of rain in the forecast).
Glen C. Hansen is senior counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.
The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.