State Water Board Issues Sweeping Water Right Curtailment Order in 2022 for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Watershed
June 09, 2022
On March 21, 2022, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board” or “Board”) issued a letter to approximately 20,000 water rights holders warning them curtailment orders are imminent due to continued drought and insufficient surface water supplies, stating specifically: “If you are in the Bay-Delta, Russian River, Scott River, Shasta River, Mill Creek, or Deer Creek watersheds, you should prepare for earlier curtailments.” This week, on June 7, 2022, the State Water Board followed through on its early warning letter with an update to the Initial Orders Imposing Water Right Curtailment and Reporting Requirements in the Delta Watershed that affects more than 4,000 water rights in the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta watershed.
Curtailment orders are centered around California’s water right priority system, under which users with more recent, or junior, priority dates are curtailed in a water shortage before users with older, more senior priority. The State Water Board recently updated the methodology it used in 2021 to inform the current curtailment orders. According to the State Water Board’s website, the revised methodology is intended to improve the water unavailability analyses that inform curtailment decisions.
In late April, the State Water Board began curtailing water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watersheds. These early curtailments applied to water rights for the Central Valley and State Water Projects, held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources, respectively. Then, on June 7, the State Water Board expanded the curtailment order to apply to 4,252 identified water rights and claims on four tributaries to the Sacramento River, three tributaries to the San Joaquin River, and the San Joaquin river itself. The update expressly did not curtail any water rights or claims within the Legal Delta.
The order specified the following water rights and claims are curtailed effective June 8, 2022:
- Water rights and claims on the following Sacramento River tributaries:
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights and pre-1914 appropriative water right claims in the Putah Creek subwatershed outside of the Legal Delta with a priority date of 1850 or later;
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights and pre-1914 appropriative water right claims in the Cache Creek subwatershed with a priority date of 1859 or later;
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights in the Bear River subwatershed with a priority date of 1942 or later; and
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights in the Stony Creek subwatershed with a priority date of 1957 or later.
- Water rights and claims on the following San Joaquin River tributaries:
- All post-1914 appropriative water rights, pre-1914 appropriative water right claims, and riparian water right claims in the Calaveras River subwatershed outside of the Legal Delta;
- All post-1914 appropriative water rights, pre-1914 appropriative water right claims, and riparian water right claims in the Chowchilla River subwatershed; and
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights and pre-1914 appropriative water right claims in the Merced River subwatershed with a priority date of 1859 or later.
- Post-1914 appropriative water rights and pre-1914 appropriative water right claims in the San Joaquin River watershed outside of the Legal Delta with a priority date of 1900 or later.
Water users are responsible for monitoring their curtailment status but can expect curtailments to continue through the summer and into the early fall until significant precipitation—hopefully—occurs. Any water right holder or claimant subject to curtailment is required to respond to the Board’s requests for information and may need to fill out online forms to provide necessary data about their water use. Anyone who violates a curtailment order may be fined up to $1,000 per day, plus an additional $2,500 for each acre-foot of water diverted.
Interested parties may view curtailment orders and search for a water right’s curtailment status on the State Water Board’s website at https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drought/delta.