Water right holders along the Russian River in Northern California have formed a steering committee to develop a program of more equitable and voluntary water cutbacks. The aim is to counter the State Water Resources Control Board’s blunt tool of curtailment orders, which can lead to significant impacts to local economies. Under the program, senior water right holders would agree to divert less water to ensure some portion for junior diverters to maintain their needs.

The committee includes tribal interests, agricultural groups, municipalities and various other entities. If successful, it could serve as a model for drought-plagued watersheds throughout the state.

“This is not something that was born overnight. This is not something that is perfected,” cautioned Devon Jones, executive director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau.

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Speaking at a board workshop last week, Jones explained that there was no template for a program like this. While the committee launched in 2020, it was not able to get the program together in time for the 2021 irrigation season, and the board stepped in with curtailments.

The committee hopes the board will incorporate the voluntary program as a parallel track within the drought regulation scheduled for readoption next month.