California Water Board Blocks Farmers from Diverting Water from Delta Watershed

In an aggressive move to address “immediate and dire water shortages,” California’s water board on Tuesday unanimously approved emergency regulations to temporarily stop thousands of farmers, landowners and others from diverting water from from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.

The new regulations — the first to take such widespread action for the massive Delta watershed stretching from Fresno to the border with Oregon — could lead to formal curtailment orders for about 5,700 water rights holders as soon as Aug. 16. The Aug. 3 decision comes on the heels of curtailment orders issued to nearly 900 water users along the drought-stricken Russian River, with 222 more expected next week.

The five water board members, who were appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom or former Gov Jerry Brown, approved the rule despite vehement opposition from representatives of Central Valley growers.

Sen. Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, said the regulation would “disrupt the critical production of essential food…Instead, the state should focus on expanding water storage and upgrading its existing water infrastructure, not punish local water managers.”

Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Democrat from Merced, called the curtailment orders for senior water rights holders “one of the most destructive measures possible.”

“The board’s legal authority is by no means certain,” Gray wrote to the board. “Growers will have to risk significant fines and penalties just to find out whether the Board actually has the authority it claims. Either way, they lose.”

Water users who continue to divert could face penalties of up to $1,000 per day plus $2,500 per acre-foot of illegally diverted water, according to Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the board’s division of water rights.

“Growers will have to risk significant fines and penalties just to find out whether the Board actually has the authority it claims. Either way, they lose.”

Most of California is experiencing an extreme drought, with May and June the warmest and driest on record since 1896. Lake Oroville, one of California’s largest reservoirs, is expected to reach a new historic low in October.

Demand for water from rivers and streams has outstripped supply 16-fold in the San Joaquin River watershed and three-fold in the Sacramento River, according to State Water Resources Control Board staff. Dwindling flows risk salty backwash from the Pacific tainting supplies for drinking, farmers and fish.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, told the water board that “this year there’s plenty of pain to go around.

“Mother Nature and climate change have brought us the situation that we have. And therefore the decisions that you have to make have very real impacts on people. But not making these decisions would have even more horrendous impacts for people,” Ross said.

A representative of the Westlands Water District, which relies on stored federal water supplies that flow through the Delta, said he supported the water board’s regulations.

“They will protect transfer water that’s been acquired to help mitigate, in part, the impacts of drought,” said Jon Rubin, assistant general manager and general counsel. “They will also help protect stored water and for those reasons Westland supports the resolution that’s been presented.”

Supplies of up to 55 gallons per person per day for minimum human health and safety needs, such as drinking and household use, are exempted from the curtailments.

The City of Vallejo urged the water board in a public comment letter to increase the 55 gallon cap, or change the way it’s calculated. The limit is “too rigid,” said Vallejo water operations manager Beth Schoenberger “and will be very difficult to implement in areas without a firm population count.”

Rachel Becker is a reporter with CalMatters.


  1. Decades of water MIS-management by One-Party Rule CA Politicians looking to serve their EnviroSpecial Interest groups and sacrifice CA residents & the farming (food sustainment) industry. Well enjoy the Power Blackouts this summer/fall if it stays hot. Looks like “renewable energy” will FAIL CA for another year – just like Germany saying they will shutdown nuclear and fossil fuel and go renewable and then are begging Russia for Fossil Fuel pipelines.

    Gavin New(TAX)som may not care about Water, Fires, and Energy but he will ensure that CA is Open for the Nation’s Homeless (with Biden’s OPEN BORDER – maybe CA will support the world’s homeless) – pledging $12 billion to combat homelessness on top of billions that have already been spent (with no progress towards reducing the problem).

    “California’s diminishing water supply is cutting down hydropower, causing the state to rely more on fossil fuels”
    24Jun2021: …the water level in Lake Oroville – CA’s 2nd largest reservoir – is approaching water levels that will force shutting down one of the state’s largest HydroElectric Power Plants for the first time since it was built in 1967.

    “With meteorologists anticipating a hot, fiery summer, experts say that cuts to hydropower will increase pressure on the state’s already-stressed power grid, as residents across the region crank up their air conditioners. And as drought desiccates the west, the state’s increasing reliance on gas-fired plants could also compromise its goal of transitioning to carbon-free electricity.”

  2. AccuWeather reports a snow survey in California revealed that the state only received about 50% of its average precipitation during the 2021 water year, tying it for its third-driest on record.

    As for water storage, AccuWeather says:

    Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface-level reservoir, recorded 65% of what is considered average.

    Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir within the State Water Project, a 700-mile-long water storage and delivery system, is at 53% of average. The State Water Project supplies water for over 27 million people and irrigates about 750,000 acres of farmland.

    Statewide, Sean De Guzman, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, said the largest reservoirs are holding around half of their total capacity. When current snowpack melts, reservoirs in the state are still only expected to be filled up to 58% of average capacity.

    What they don’t say is that the state has been letting water out of reservoirs across California for months now. And it’s not going to farmers, growers, ranchers or urban use. Environmental policy says the water “flows” from reservoirs are necessary to produce a rebound of endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. However, these policies are a failure as neither species have been collected in all of the latest trawling surveys, where they spend several days a month searching in more than 200 spots. This practice of releasing water and hoping fish improve, has been unsuccessful for nearly 30 years, according to Kristi Diener, a California water expert and third-generation Central Valley farmer. Both species are close to extinction.

    Meanwhile, as the reservoir water flows are not saving fish at all, the State of California has known we are heading into a multi year drought. But northern reservoir managers have continued to release water through the Delta, and into the Pacific Ocean anyway.

    Diener explains what is really going on in her “California Water for Food and People Movement:”

    “Less than two years ago, every reservoir in the state was brimming with water, and held a supply to last a minimum of five dry years without another drop of rain. Shasta and Oroville by themselves held enough water to meet the needs of 80 million people for a year. With 25 million receiving water from these sources, those two reservoirs alone could deliver water for more than three years. But the majority of that stored water has been released to the ocean for ongoing environmental causes that have not benefitted a single endangered fish. Water managers claim the problem is families are not conserving enough. They are now recommending only using water for drinking and sanitation, and to stop watering any landscape that is not edible. Many property owners are already trucking in water.”

    “50% of California’s water supply goes to environmental uses, 40% is converted to the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and the remaining 10% is for urban use. Families did not waste their way into a water shortage and cannot conserve their way out. Saving 25% of a 10% use equals 2.5%. Ongoing water releases continue to put fish over people, and both are suffering. More water rights holders than ever before are about to receive stop-using-water notices.”

    “There is no accountability whatsoever to show positive results for the water continuously taken from the human supply. The governor appointed peeps in the CDFW spend hundreds of millions of our dollars on everything from studies and monitoring, to decades of supposed habitat restoration. They have failed the fishing industry big time, in addition to drying up the water supply for farmers and families.”

    Just last year in February 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an order to divert water in Northern California from the San Francisco Bay area to the Central Valley, to help farmers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley get access to more water after years of inadequate amounts of water and generally poor water quality. The order was widely seen as likely since in the last several months protections on some central and northern California fish populations, such as the chinook salmon, were lifted in October of last year as California Globe reported.

    In October 2018, President Trump signed a memorandum on “Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West” which included guidance and direction on the process. (DOI news release) In the President’s memorandum, he says “Decades of uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our Federal infrastructure, however, to deliver water and power in an efficient, cost‑effective way,” also warning that unless addressed right now, “fragmented policies and fragmented regulation of water infrastructure will continue to produce inefficiencies, unnecessary burdens, and conflict among the Federal Government, States, tribes, and local public agencies that deliver water to their citizenry.”

    As California Rep. Tom McClintock has said for years, “droughts are naturally occurring, water shortages are man-made.” He also has warned for many years, “We live in one of the most water-rich regions of the country – yet we have not built a major reservoir in this state since 1979. Meanwhile, the population has nearly doubled. The sad, simple fact is that we will NEVER solve our water problems until we start building new dams once again.”

    Visit California Department of Water Resources for current Reservoir conditions.

    Precipitation data, real time, daily and monthly records are located at the California Data Exchange Center website.

  3. The Farmers and Ranchers should get adequate water supplies to maintain the agricultural sector of California’s economy.

    Almond and rice producers will have to consider and implement additional creative water re-uses for their crops.

    For California cities…you should be clambering the elected Dufi for Desalination facilities using COVID BORROWED MONEY to build them instead of giving free money to worthless morons.

    Recall Governor Newsom with extreme prejudice!

    David S. Wall

  4. aren’t we building a 2 acre hobby farm in the middle of “decades long housing crisis” Silicon Valley that will grow $40000 a year of food at a loss and somehow water’s not an issue

    but we are cutting off THEEE essential component of a $50B industry so we can keep the ocean from doing what it does?

    when will you people stop your feelz-a-thon and think? Think with like weighted parameters?

  5. But they’re not growing alfalfa, rice, or evil almonds on that trendy urban farm.

    Besides, water counts less for feeding a nation and more than for New Homes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *