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Senior Water Rights Fight

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SACRAMENTO --

Friday, California water regulators ordered farmers and other landowners with water rights dating back to 1903 to stop pumping water from The Sacramento, San Joaquin and Delta watersheds.

It's a fight many land owners saw coming during the state's fourth consecutive drought year, when all Californians have been asked to cut their water usage. However, many landowners who staked claims on property near these waterways over a century ago argue their water rights are protected under the constitution, and that the state does not have the authority to ask them to stop using these sources of water to grow their crops.

"Some of them feel like we do not have the authority to go ahead and tell them to stop taking water, however, we do have authority in the water code, and really it's a simple equation. When you have more demand and less supply, someone has to stop taking water," George Kostyrko with the State Water Resources Control Board said.

Fridays order told over 100 people with water rights dating back to 1903 to stop diverting water from local rivers. Kostyrko told FOX40 the order will protect those with even stronger water rights, dating before 1903, at least for now. He said as the summer progresses and the drought worsens, those with pre-1903 water rights will likely be asked to stop diverting water as well.

"They saw this coming, so," John Precissi said.

Precissi is a crop duster. He said his business is actually doing well because of warmer temperatures, but that everyone in the agriculture industry is talking about these water curtailments.

"We work hard at it and it's sad that like our livelihood's being affected by our state, you know?" Precissi said.

"This is the first time this has happened since probably '77 or '78," Kostyrko said.

Steve Knell with the Oakdale Irrigation District said there's a reason for that. In a written statement, Knell said, "The state water board has never before curtailed pre-1914 water rights holders.
There is a reason for that. It does not have the jurisdiction to issue, manage, oversee or curtail pre-1914 water rights," Knell said.

Some lawyers representing local farmers with senior water rights said Friday they were prepared to go to court over this fight.

"They've worked all their lives for this and now they feel helpless because the state is trying to divert a lot of the water that we use to feed the world," Precissi said.