In Unprecedented Move, California Farmers With Guaranteed Rights Cut Water Use By 25%

Tyler Durden's picture

In an attempt to frontrun even more draconian measures resulting from California's record drought, farmers in the state's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta who have California's oldest water rights proposed to voluntarily cut their water use by 25% to avoid the risk of even harsher restrictions by the state later this summer should the water situation deteriorate further. State officials promptly accepted the offer, even if it is ultimately moot since there is no way to enforce it.

California had not restricted water use for growers with the oldest, most established water rights since the 1970s, and the first in memory for the San Joaquin, which runs from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco Bay. For many farmers, a fear that the worst is yet to come convinced them that they would be better off giving up water before they began planting for the season.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta

Gino Celli took a water sample to check the salinity in an irrigation canal that runs through his fields near Stockton, Calif., this week. Mr. Celli has senior water rights and draws his irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The proposal was made by the so-called riparian water rights holders, who have the oldest and most secure access to California rivers. They proposed the unprecedented voluntary curtailment for one simple reason: "There is a threat that the state might try the unthinkable and tell us that we cannot use any of the water,” said Dennis Gardemeyer, a delta farmer who helped spur the deal. "I and almost everyone in the delta think that will result in all manner of lawsuits and they will not prevail, but there’s always that threat."

As AP reports, this is the latest water emergency conservation step undertaken by the state: previously Governor Jerry Brown has ordered communities throughout the state to reduce water use by 25 percent. State water officials have encouraged water users to propose conservation measures, drawing the proposal from farmers.

California's governor has been criticized for leaving farmers out of tightening regulations that force communities throughout the state to cut back on their water use. But this is the second consecutive year that junior water-rights holders have received orders to stop pumping river water to irrigate their crops.

The escalation is likely to have a substantial impact on US food prices over the summer: farmers would either take less river water for irrigation or leave a quarter of their crops unplanted. If the state accepts the deal, Delta water managers say it may become a model for farmers throughout California, who also are facing curtailments.

And since it is unclear where local farmers can find substitute water, it is likely that suddenly the supply of California plantings is about to decline by at least a quarter, leading to a dramatic spike in foor prices heading into the second half of the year.

One concern is that it is impossible to predict how many farmers will participate, said attorney Jennifer Spaletta, who represents several Delta growers, but those who do would be able to plan their crops earlier in the season with more certainty.

In any event, on Friday state officials accepted the offer. Cited by the NYT, Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, said: “We’re in an unprecedented drought, and we have to exercise the state’s water rights in an unprecedented way. This is a breakthrough in what has long been a rhetorical battle. It’s a significant turning point to have people say, ‘We know this is complicated. We want to do something early in good faith that is a pragmatic solution for everyone.’”


The biggest problem is that just like European reforms where everyone promises much and delivers nothing, so there is absolutely no way to enforce the California proposal: regulators lack enough sensors, meters and other technology to make sure water isn't illegally diverted. Water rights curtailments are instead enforced by an honor system, complaints and field investigations.

And since to many farmers a drop in production may well mean a fast track into insolvency, one can anticipate just how efficient a system based on self-regulation will be. For a quick answer look at the recidivist criminal banks on Wall Street which are also "self regulated."

In other words, this "historic" announcement is very much moot, especially when one considers that less than 30% of the junior rights farmers, those who have already been ordered to cut water use for the second year in a row, have told the board they are complying.

A brief Q&A on how this historic move came about courtesy of AP:


California is in its driest four-year stretch on record. Winter provided little rain and snow to replenish rivers and streams, meaning there is not enough water to meet the demands of farms, communities and wildlife. The State Water Resources Control Board is monitoring conditions in rivers and streams across the parched state and deciding who gets to divert water. Even those with long-standing legal rights to water are under scrutiny.


The rights allow holders such as cities, irrigation districts serving farms, and corporations to take water directly from rivers and streams. The first to claim the water are the last to have supplies curtailed. Users who obtained rights to divert water after 1914 are the first to be cut off to ensure there is water for senior water rights holders with claims dating to the Gold Rush. Landowners with property that touches waterways have riparian rights — the strongest of the senior water rights.


Thousands of farmers and others with more recent, junior water rights in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds have been ordered to stop diverting water for the second consecutive year. Less than 30 percent have told the board they are complying.


The board in the coming weeks plans to order those with claims to water in the San Joaquin River watershed dating before 1914 to stop pumping from rivers and streams. Riparian rights holders were scheduled to be curtailed by mid-June. Friday's order would be the first restriction on senior water rights holders since severe drought the late 1970s, and the first in memory for the San Joaquin, which runs from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco Bay.


That's the challenge. Regulators lack enough sensors, meters and other technology to make sure water isn't illegally diverted. Water rights curtailments are instead enforced by an honor system, complaints and field investigations. Some curtailment orders are easily followed because there's no water to take from streams.


Senior water rights holders see their claims to water as ironclad after they paid top price for land with nearly guaranteed water in dry California. Some of their attorneys have threatened litigation, saying the water board has no authority over them. Other farmers with water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are offering to voluntarily conserve 25 percent of their water in exchange for assurances that they won't face additional cuts in the middle of their growing season.


Thomas Howard, executive director of the State Water Board, says he'll announce by Friday whether to let riparian water rights holders take voluntary cuts to avoid curtailments. He says his decision hinges on whether the voluntary conservation would save enough water to reduce the strain on rivers and streams that are drying up. His decision would extend to waterfront property owners in the entire basin of the Sacramento River.

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AIIB's picture
AIIB (not verified) May 23, 2015 5:37 PM

The 'redirect' will all go to Pelosis vineyards (so don't worry peeps, THE RIPPLE & THUNDERBIRD WILL CONTINUE 2 FLOW)...

Publicus's picture

This drought will last 1000 years, hope they are prepared.

jldpc's picture

one can only hope. Goodbye CA

silverer's picture

What? Wait! Ripple?  Is that still around? OMG!

NoPension's picture

Water rights in Commifornia are about to be " eminent domained".

Wanna bet?

Ironclad claims. Hahaha!!!

Karaio's picture

I do not understand this "right to water".

It looks something like "right the first fuck" lords of the Middle Ages.


shovelhead's picture

No problem.

We'll buy lettuce from the other communist state.


Sputnik Brand...It's out of this world.

ZerOhead's picture

Let's see... the Columbia river has an average flow of 200,000 cubic feet per second which is 10X that of the Colorado.

At a flow rate of 10 feet per second it would take a pipe 50 feet in diameter and about 700 miles long to deliver 10% of that water (the equivalent of the Colorado) down the valley then offshore to San Fransisco Bay and onward into the Central Valley.

No pumps are even required if you just start the pipeline from one of the lower dams like the Jon Day . 500 P.S.I for free.

NoPension's picture

Uncle Warren's Water Train, sounds like a better idea. Pipelines are bad for the environment, I hear.

Edit, I didn't junk you Zero. It's a good idea.

ZerOhead's picture

The distance from the Columbia to San Fransisco bay and the Central valley is around 700 miles. Lets call it 1,000.

4 inch thick steel (overkill) will run around 80,000 tons per mile. At $800 per ton thats around $64 billion for the steel. Add $36 billion in graft for friends of Obama/Congress and you are at $100 billion.

Add another $50 billion for the concrete and another $50 billion in graft and you are now at another $100 billion.

Take that $200 billion in raw materials and multiply it by 5 for fabrication and yet more graft and you are now at a total of $1 trillion all in.

Next Congess will sell it to George Soros for $1 trillion (or less) who will go to the banksters to create $1 trillion (or much more) in new debt money at say 8% for a free $80 billion ride per year for Wall Street. Everyone is now happy.

Next you can build a couple of thousand new golf courses in California and grow an Arizona and New Mexico sized tract of land full of fruits, veggies and most importantly... big juicy melons.


Lot's of jobs for everyone and never a worry about water again. That's why it will never happen. Besides... we are in another multi-trillion dollar war with ISIS. As in WITH ISIS against Syria then WITH ISIS against Iran...

Urban Redneck's picture

There is also 500psi freely available at just over 1000 ft below see level, which is enough to to force sea water through a desal membrane wthout pumping... and it's a hell of a lot closer (and cleaner) than raw water from the Columbia River.

ZerOhead's picture

Sounds good in theory...

Cost the desalination membrane required to produce 20,000 cubic feet per second and get back to me...

Urban Redneck's picture

Calculate the electrical usage required to actually pump 20,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Columbia River to Socal (the dam is only 180ft tall, with the base at 260ft elevation).

The "theory" is the result of over a million in R&D (and T&E), and it costs orders of magnitude less than pipeline that would take a trillion dollar coin to pay for.

Then again, Soros would probably prefer any (non)solution as long as it provides maximum benefit to his bottom line.

ZerOhead's picture

Just run it further up river or enlarge the diameter of the pipe. You really shouldn't require all that much pressure anyway unless you wish to deliver it at elevation in California.

And pumping 20,000 cu ft/sec 1,000ft in elevation is going to be a bitch as well.

Urban Redneck's picture

IF the the environmental and geoengineering concerns (and the people of W Oregon & E Idaho) didn't exist... and on a long enough timeline, the most practical solution would be to simply reroute the Snake River to Lake Shasta and raise the Shasta Dam 200ft (at which point this whole mental exercise has to stay above 1200ft).  It's not like the US doesn't have fuck tons of high explosive ordinance available to blast the canal, and massive concrete manufacturing capacity to reinforce the canal where necessary.  The fact is that 80% of the CA water need is agricultural, so desal (and even potable water) would be overkill, but any solution needs to feed into the existing CA water distribution infrastructure at elevation.

Kprime's picture

yellen can print the membrane or donate her own, she never lost it.

Antifaschistische's picture

holy cow...that's a big pipe.   But, the Chinese would have already done it.   California and Oregon?  It will take at least 12 years to do an environmental assessment.   In 12 years California will certainly have filed for bankruptcy.

In the meantime, the farmers voluntarily cut 25%, and LA says thank you very much...please keep pumping that water over the grapevine (which is not remotely energy efficient) so LA can keep their lawns and golf courses green.

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Jim Kirk solutions are not really to be taken seriously.

Keep your friggin mitts off my water.

seminal1's picture
seminal1 (not verified) May 23, 2015 5:54 PM

When will the water that is being flushed out to the ocean for the benefit of the delta smelt fish be cut by 25 percent?


State and federal water projects have wasted about hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water for the tiny fish.

Tegrat's picture

They counted about 8 smelts last time. enough to fit in two sardine cans.

ZerOhead's picture

The Delta smelt is well worth saving at twice the water cost.

Pelosi says that's how good they taste...

Antifaschistische's picture

would someone please just hurry-up and pour a bunch of fishicide in those lakes to kill all those stupid Delta Smelt.....once that's done, we can cry over it all we want.

Hey, why don't we just create a smelt-fishitat where we breed the stupid things in a pool just so we can say we're preserving life.

A Lunatic's picture

Water privileges.....

Jack Burton's picture

who have California's oldest water rights

So, no matter how much or little water California gets, some people hold absolute quantity rights? Instead of an absolute percentage right. In that case if water levels are 20% of normal, the water right drops to 20% of what it was at normal levels. Seems a bit much to hold an absolute right to a full quantity of a resource that is nothing near what it was when the water right was established.

This reminds me of fishing rights where I live. All kinds of 90 year old ladies hold absolute fishing rights, because their family fished a 100 years ago, and the liscense is a family right forever. So hard working family men must give the old bitch half their income just for a right to fish that the old bag got from her father 100 years ago. Shit, if you can't fish yourself, then fuck you! Nobody who is not going to fish should have any right to a license. People willing to work and pay the state's fees should have a lottery chance to get the license. These absolute rights are anti capitalist, anti free market, anti worker. But them, America has become a Communist State whre everyone has some way to use government to enforce a communist market. No wonder this country is going to shit. All these stake holders who have used government to gain powers that do not belong in any capitalist economy. Red Commissars are everywhere in this place.

Matt's picture

Property rights are communist?

Next, you're going to tell me we should have 100% inheritance tax for the good of the free markets. 

Bangin7GramRocks's picture

"I'll suck your cock if you just promise to not fuck me in the ass later." - California farmers

Fun Facts's picture

"his fields" look like the mojave desert.

henry chucho's picture

Just pay each of the 10 million illegal Mexicans and Central Americans $10,000 apiece to leave the shithole state,and the problem will solve itself..The $100 billion is less than the free gubermint benifits they recieve each year..

NoWayJose's picture

It is close to time to set up a desalinization plant on the coast and start selling water to California farmers. The economics have finally arrived.

silverer's picture

Hmm... decreased usage by 25% that was recently increased 25%.

kw2012's picture

They will all cheat, in facyvthey may pump more than ever in a use it or lose it panic

Magooo's picture



Cities in the desert - who's the fucking moron who thought of that?

pcrs's picture

Is it a coincidence that great depressions are correlated with great droughts. They had the great dust bowl in the thirties. 

GCT's picture

Yep lets spend billions on a high speed rail system instead of desalination plants for California.

Makes perfect sense to me!

VisionQuest's picture

Comparing a farmer to a Wall Street Banker is like comparing a black widow spider to a sea horse. On the Progressive Left, bureaucratic control-freaks see the glass always half-empty and draining fast. Always.

roadhazard's picture

It's like listening to a politician say he wants to work for you.