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State: Decision On Possible Senior Water Rights Cuts Coming Next Week

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The State Water Resources Control Board now says senior water rights holders can continue pumping water from the San Joaquin River.

The Delta's senior water rights holders are still waiting to see if that right holds up with the state.

The rights go back to Gold Rush days. It's first-come, first-served for the rights holders when it comes to taking water. The state has never ordered cuts to senior water rights holders.

Reports surfaced late on Wednesday that the board would order farmers to stop pumping from the San Joaquin County River watershed and that curtailment orders would be sent to senior rights holders on Friday.

The board now says no decision will be made on water rights until next week.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District manager Jeff Shields suspects the water board will try to stop some Delta farmers from taking water.

"As the summer progresses, the amount of water deteriorates. The rivers get very low. So you want water in storage. What we're looking for in a curtailment order should one come out, is it a pre-1914 curtailment against diverting to store it," he said.

Low water would mean no water for farmers.

"It's not so much what the order allows us or prevents us from doing as it is what authority are they exercising," he said.

The district owns reservoirs above New Melones and Tulloch, which are on the Stanislaus River. If the district releases water from the reservoirs, that flows down to the Delta, and the water board may say farmers can't touch it since it's not a natural flow.

"We have growers who invested into these rights since 1909. Pledged their property to build reservoirs and to operate under their rights. So tramping on their rights is something we can't stand by," he said.

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