Scott Valley, Siskiyou, South County

Water Board curtails most surface water rights in Scott Valley

By Theodora Johnson

At noon on July 2,

all surface water rights in Scott Valley were curtailed by the State Water Resources Control Board. Four days later, on July 6, a minor change was made to the curtailment: first-priority diverters are now allowed 15% of their water right. AgWA questioned Water Board staff as to why 100% of surface water had been curtailed on 7/2, when the flow rate at the USGS gage in the Scott River was at 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) that morning—20 cfs above the minimum mandated level for July under the Emergency Drought Regulation. Water Board staff responded that flows had been dropping quickly the prior week (as much as 14 cfs per day), to the point that the flow requirement of 90 cfs was not met on June 30 (the Regulation requires 90 cfs in late June). Staff predicted that the rapid downward trend would continue without a curtailment of surface diversions, causing flows to dip below the 50 cfs required in July. Thus, the curtailment was ordered—and then a good rain immediately followed. As of July 6, flow was around 80 cfs. In response to the rebound in flow, the Water Board issued an addendum allowing 15% use by first-priority water rights holders only. The curtailment points to a few of the problems with the Emergency Drought Regulation. First, water rights can be curtailed at the discretion of Water Board staff, even when flow levels in the Scott are above the new mandated levels. This creates extreme uncertainty for water users. Then, there’s the problem that the flow requirements are unnecessarily high: 50 cfs in the mainstem in July has not been shown to be essential for salmon or steelhead. California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife has never specified why they think 50 cfs is needed. Furthermore, cutting all senior rights at the start of the curtailment came as a shock to water rights holders, who are accustomed to water rights management that begins by cutting back junior water rights first and then gradually moving up toward senior rights. Water rights holders understand this priority strategy and have adapted their operations to this probability of water access. But this curtailment order did not follow the normal procedure. Another problem exemplified by the July 2 curtailment: surface water diverters take a disproportionate hit. Apparently, surface diversions can be curtailed when flows in the Scott are well above the mandated levels, based on forecasts made by Water Board staff. And, unlike groundwater users, no surface water rights holders in Scott Valley are currently covered under Local Cooperative Solutions. At present, they have no protection against curtailments. Surface-water irrigated land accounts for half the irrigated acreage in Scott Valley, so lots of acreage is impacted—about 15,000 acres. Despite our complaints, we must acknowledge that Water Board staff has been very communicative with AgWA. We appreciate the dialogue as we continue to voice the concerns of our farming and ranching membership.

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