Calif. officials announce water restrictions for longtime rights holders

Regulators have told a group of California’s oldest water rights holders to stop pumping their water from some of the state’s rivers and streams.

The move is the latest step taken by state officials to protect California’s dwindling water reserves in the midst of a severe drought. 

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The move affects rights holders who have held priority access to pumping the state’s water supplies since 1903, according to the California Water Resources Control Board. The move affects water rights holders in the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds and delta in the Central Valley. 

Water rights in California are based on seniority. The state began issuing water permits in 1914, and those who hold claims to water rights dating before then are considered “senior" rights holders. This is the first time California regulators have restricted water access for senior rights holders since a drought in the 1970s. 

Officials had already cut off water access to nearly 9,000 junior rights holders, or those with permits awarded since 1914. The state has also instituted mandatory cuts to urban water use. 

Friday’s order affects nearly 300 rights holders, state officials said. The Los Angeles Times reports that the decision could lead to pushback from rights holders, including legal challenges. Several rights holders had voluntarily agreed to reduce their water use earlier this year. 

The move comes the same day President Obama met with six Western state governors, including California’s Jerry Brown, about the drought. The Obama administration announced a $110 million plan to help agriculture interests and rural communities cope with the drought and wildfires in the West.