With consumption down, California eases water restrictions for some farmers, water agencies

Government And Institutions Associated Press

The state on Friday cleared some farmers, water agencies and others to resume pumping from three Northern California waterways, easing one of the toughest restrictions stemming from the state's four-year drought.

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The limits, and the new order easing them, were among the most stringent ever imposed on so-called senior water-rights holders, who hold some of the strongest claims to water from California watersheds. State officials say it is the first time they have lifted a 2015 restriction on senior rights holders.

The order from the state Water Resources Control Board allows a certain group of senior water-rights holders — those who claimed stakes between 1903 and 1914 — to resume pumping from the Feather and Sacramento rivers and from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, said Kathy Mrowka, the board's manager for water rights.

It applies to 238 water rights, although some farmers and others hold more than one of the rights.

The state had told those rights holders to stop taking from the waterways earlier this year. Reduced water use by those still allowed to pump from the watersheds allowed California to ease the restrictions, Mrowka said.

California water law is based largely on ensuring the rights of those with the oldest claims, dating back more than a century. The state has cut the water allotted to countless other farmers, water agencies and others with newer rights.

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Gov. Jerry Brown this spring also ordered cities and towns to cut their water use by 25 percent.