(CN) – California on Thursday ordered farms and people in the Central Valley to stop diverting irrigation water from rivers and streams despite their legal rights to the water.
The State Water Resources Board announced its latest round of water restrictions after determining that the San Joaquin and Scott River watersheds are too dry to satisfy diversion demands.
The board sent curtailment notices to those who obtained water rights to the San Joaquin River watershed after 1914 and to those with a junior priority right to the Scott River watershed, ordering them to stop pumping from rivers and streams.
“Even if there is water physically available at your point of diversion, that water is necessary to meet senior water right holders’ needs or is water released from storage that you are not entitled to divert,” the board said in the curtailment notice.
Under California’s seniority based water rights system, if there is insufficient water in a watercourse to support all water rights, junior water rights holders must limit or stop their water diversions first, based on their priority, to satisfy the rights of those more senior to them.
But in the fourth year of the drought, even senior water rights holders – those whose claims date back to before 1914 – are likely to be cut off from diverting water this year unless conditions improve, the board warned.
Anyone found to be illegally diverting water could be fined up to $1,000 per day and $2,500 for each acre-foot of water diverted.
Last year, the State Water Board curtailed rights for 5,063 water right holders throughout the state, contributing to fallowed fields and the loss of many farm jobs.
Water group representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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