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California’s drought regulators lose big case. What it means for state’s power to police water

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  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...]

    From the article:

    With California in its third punishing year of a historic drought, an appeals court ruled Monday that the State Water Resources Control Board lacks the power to interfere with so-called “senior” water rights holders and curtail their diversions of water from rivers.

    The case stems from orders imposed by the state board in 2015, during the previous drought, when it halted farms and cities throughout the Central Valley from taking water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.


    “It’s certainly a defeat for the state board,” said Brian Gray, a water-rights expert at the Public Policy Institute of California.

    But Gray said the court’s ruling did suggest that the board could exercise its authority over senior rights holders by using emergency powers granted by the governor.

    Earlier this year the board ordered roughly 4,500 farms, cities and other entities to stop taking water out of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the 1,100-square-mile watershed that provides about two-thirds of California’s population with drinking water. The board’s orders this year have included senior rights holders such as the city of San Francisco and the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, all of which pull water from the Tuolumne River.


    The key date is 1914, when the California Water Commission Act took effect and the precursor to the state water board was established. Anyone holding rights that were claimed before 1914 is considered a senior rights holder.

    The water board’s decision during the last drought to go after those with senior water rights was an important step to ensure there was enough water in the state’s rivers to protect near-extinct species of fish and to ensure the rivers don’t run dry, said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    He said that while the ruling does leave the water board with authority to use its emergency powers, it’s clear that California lawmakers need to step up to give the state’s water cops the tools they need to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules.

    5 votes