California moves to restrict water pumping by pre-1914 rights holders

For the first time in nearly 40 years, state regulators are telling more than 100 growers and irrigation districts with some of the oldest water rights in California that they have to stop drawing supplies from drought-starved rivers and streams in the Central Valley.

The curtailment order, issued Friday by the State Water Resources Control Board, has been expected for weeks. Earlier this spring, the board halted diversions under some 8,700 junior rights. With snowmelt reduced to a trickle this year, there simply isn't enough water flowing in rivers to meet the demand of all those with even older rights predating 1914.

And as flows continue to decline this summer, board officials said, they expect to issue more curtailments, stopping river pumping by more senior diverters.

The effect of the curtailments, which affect water users with rights dating to 1903, will vary. Many have water in storage that they can continue to use. Utilities can keep using flows for hydropower production as long as the water is returned to the rivers. Some growers and ranchers also have groundwater supplies that are unaffected by the order.

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