Drought, Water Shortages Return to Much of State

May 13, 2020 at 10:55pm

Ag Alert. California Farm Bureau Federation, By Kevin Hecteman

The return of drought to California has been widespread—58% of the state now experiences some level of dryness, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor—with extreme drought concentrated in 4% of the state, primarily in the northwestern region of Siskiyou, Trinity and Humboldt counties.

That's the region where Jim Morris raises livestock and field crops.

"Most of the hills, lower-elevation hills, the grass is all gone—never really grew this year," said Morris, who farms near Etna in Siskiyou County.

There was some snow, he said, but it has largely melted.

"Mount Shasta is going to probably be just dirt here in a little while," Morris said.

To the south, customers of federal and state water projects face reduced water supplies, and one class of water-rights holders may see curtailments as summer approaches.

At a meeting last week, the State Water Resources Control Board warned that water-rights holders with Term 91 clauses could see supplies reduced.

Term 91 applies to water-rights permits issued after 1965 and are junior to the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, said Chris Scheuring, a California Farm Bureau Federation water lawyer. As most agricultural water rights are senior to this, they're unlikely to be affected, he noted.

"I guess it's a little bit of a reminder that this is one of those dry years, but I don't think that the state board intends to go any deeper on the list in terms of water rights," Scheuring said.

The number of water-permit holders subject to Term 91 is small—about 140, according to Diane Riddle, assistant deputy director of water rights with the state water board. The term kicks in when the CVP and SWP need to release stored water to meet salinity standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"It's essentially a term that protects the water rights for the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project when there are limited supplies and there are supplementing needs for salinity control and outflow requirements of the delta with previously stored water releases," Riddle said.

Some of the more recent permits including Term 91 are for rice straw decomposition, she said.

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