Senior right holders sue California over water restrictions

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Several regional irrigation districts have sued the State of California over recent water cuts.

The plaintiffs have pre-1914 water rights and say that the State does not have the authority to  curtail their rights.  California enacted its water rights law in 1914. It gave preference to senior water rights holders that had established water claims before the law was passed.

The lawsuits seek to overturn drought emergency water curtailmentsOpens in a new tab. imposed last month by the State Water Resources Control Board, with some saying that the State denied senior right holders due process.

Fresno Superior Court Lawsuits.

On August 20, the State Water Resources Control Board stopped water diversions for 10,300 water rights on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This affected about 4,500 farms.  On September 2,  the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority filed suit in the Fresno Superior Court. The Authority represents Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District.  The San Francisco City and County joined the suit.  According to Vegetable Growers NewsOpens in a new tab., “The authority’s districts irrigate some 325,000 acres of farmland. In addition, water pulled by the authority from the Tuolumne River serves 2.7 million Bay Area residents.”  The Digital ReporterOpens in a new tab. writes that, “State officials had argued the orders would help preserve stored water to protect drinking water supplies, prevent salinity intrusion and protect the environment. The Delta watershed provides two thirds of the state with drinking water.”

Lawsuits in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Vegetable Growers NewsOpens in a new tab. reports that another lawsuit was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court on September 1 by Patterson, West Stanislaus and Banta-Carbona irrigation districts, which have water rights on the west side of the San Joaquin River. On September 7, the Merced Irrigation District filed suit over its rights to divert water from the Merced River.  The suit in Fresno County Superior Court claims the state overreached in cutting off supplies to senior water rights holders. It charges that the board denied due process to regional water districts and potentially impacted their historic water rights by not specifying when the curtailment order ends.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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Justine Weber
Justine Weber
October 17, 2021 5:03 pm
Boy do I have mixed feelings about this one! I grew up swimming in the Merced River and the farmers in those areas produce so much of the nation’s food. This is a very important case to watch!

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