The drought in California has impacted the city of Rio Dell to the point that now the California State Water Resources Control Board has limited residential water usage to 50 gallons per day.
Along with 128 other “junior water rights holders,” water allocations are curtailed due to river levels being “insufficient to meet the needs of senior water rights holders.”
The Times-Standard reported that according to the board, water is distributed based on the year an entity was granted water usage rights. Under state law, a city that gained water rights before 2014 is referred to as a senior water rights holder and has priority over those cities that obtained their rights after that year, known as junior water rights holders. As a result, even though Rio Dell (a junior rights holder) has 3,400 residents, as opposed to adjacent city Scotia with only 800 residents, they are not entitled to as much water allotment.
“This condition of curtailment will continue until water conditions improve,” the board’s notice states. “Even if there may be water physically available at your point of diversion, that water is necessary to meet senior water right holders’ needs that you are not entitled to divert.”
According to California’s 2013 water update plan, an average shower requires about 12 gallons, which makes clear that fifty gallons is not a particularly generous amount. Rio Dell City Manager Jim Stretch says that he has been inundated with phone calls about the new limits, but he admits that there is not much he can do about getting water elsewhere. “We don’t really have any choice here. We don’t have wells anymore. Our wells were abandoned years ago, because they are heavy in metals. We have no other source. This is it.”
Rio Dell officials will be checking resident water meters on a biweekly basis, and violation of the new water quotas can draw nasty fines of up to $500. Multiple violations can result in water shut-offs.