Will ruling on pre-1914 curtailments force the Water Board to track stored water?

On September 12th, 2022, the Sixth District Court of Appeal issued a ruling that the State Water Resources Control Board did not have the authority to curtail pre-1914 water rights under Water Code section 1052(a).  This code section provides that “The diversion or use of water subject to this division other than as authorized in this division is a trespass.”  In 2015, the Water Board had curtailed some pre-1914 diversions based on the assertion that “the existing water supply in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds and Delta watersheds is insufficient to meet the needs of some pre-1914 claims of right.”
The court noted:
The Board has long had the authority to adopt “emergency regulation[s]” “to require curtailment of diversions when water is not available under the diverter’s priority of right, or in furtherance of any of the foregoing, to require reporting of diversion or use or the preparation of monitoring reports.”…The Board has utilized its emergency regulation authority to enact regulations authorizing it to curtail water use by classes of water right holders during droughts. Neither section 1058.5 nor any of these regulations contains the limits found in section 1052(a). (citations omitted.)
The Water Board issued a statement that
the court’s decision does not impact the State Water Board’s ongoing drought response actions, including curtailments of senior water rights, which rely on drought emergency regulations. Likewise, it does not impact the board’s authority to take actions against illegal diversions, nor does it preclude the board from taking enforcement measures to protect water released from storage, such as the State Water Project or Central Valley Project.
The court’s ruling further stated:
“Because the Board did not base these notices on the presence (or even possible presence) of stored water in the Delta, the trial court properly concluded that the Board’s authority to act under section 1052(a) could not be upheld on that basis.”

The State Water Board may ultimately have to revise their water unavailability analysis for the Delta watershed to track releases and diversions of SWP and CVP stored water. Currently the Water Board does not collect enough information to do such an analysis.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s permits for the Central Valley Project require reporting of maximum amounts of stored water rediverted by the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors under Reclamation’s permits, but as we wrote to the Water Board in 2021, Reclamation has yet to fully comply with these terms.

Further reading

California Water Curtailment Cases, Cal, App. 6th, opinion H047270.

Des Jardins, D. Diversions by Settlement Contractors and CVP Permits, California Water Research blog, June 6, 2021.

State Water Resources Control Board, Water Unavailability Methodology for the Delta Watershed, web page, accessed September 15, 2022.

One thought on “Will ruling on pre-1914 curtailments force the Water Board to track stored water?

  1. Thank you so much for your succinct review of this extremely important ruling. It’s a bit scary to think of the impact of this case.

Leave a Reply