Most growers miss water deadline
Only 31% of affected rights holders say they’ve complied with curtailment order.
The majority of California growers, irrigation districts and others who have been ordered to stop drawing water from rivers and streams because of worsening drought conditions have failed to register their compliance before an official deadline, officials said Monday.
In what a spokesman described as a “disappointing” development, the State Wa- ter Resources Control Board released f igures showing that only 31% of affected water rights holders had officially responded to curtailment orders.
When water right holders receive a shut- off order, they have seven days to submit a certification form to the water board, officials said.
Rights holders who fail to heed a curtailment order and continue drawing water are subject to f ines of as much as $ 1,000 a day and $ 2,500 per acre- foot of unlawfully diverted water.
It remains unclear exactly why the response rate is so low, and water board off icials said they were still studying the matter. However, at least one water rights attorney said that simple oversight might be a factor.
“Most of them are small, mom and pop operations,” Sacramento attorney David Aladjem said. “Most of the small farmers I have worked with over the years are very good in terms of doing what they need to do to get a crop in, but they’re not so good on paperwork.”
Of the 9,112 curtailment orders issued to senior and junior rights holders this year, only 2,814 had generated responses, according to the water board.
“I would think that the low response … is a little disappointing,” said Timothy Moran, a water board spokesman.
However, the figures also showed that response rates among large- volume water users were much higher.
“If you look at it according to water demand, the response is 78%,” Moran said. “That indicates the ones who are responding are the large water users.”
The vast majority of curtailment orders issued have affected so- called junior rights holders, or those entities whose legal claim to water dates to 1914.
A much smaller number of curtailment orders, 277, affected senior rights holders — those whose rights date to before 1914. Those orders were announced June 12, and depending on when the rights holders received the notice, their response window may still be open.
A number of Central Valley senior rights holders have f iled suit against the water board, arguing that their rights were curtailed without due process.
On Monday, representatives from two irrigation districts who are litigating the senior rights curtailments said they did not see how the water board could limit their water use when the board had yet to receive shut- off confirmation from junior rights holders.
“Until they are compliant, why should senior water users in our ag district be asked to give up one acrefoot of water,” said Steve Knell, general manager of the Oakdale Irrigation Dis- trict. He said that some junior rights holders were still drawing water in violation of shut- off orders.
At the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, general manager Jeff Shields said he was surprised to see such a low rate of response among junior rights holders. However, he said there could be legal reasons senior rights holders would not respond.
“It will be difficult for those of us that have filed litigation against the state water board challenging their jurisdiction to turn around and file a compliance certification,” Shields said.