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To defend their place in line, senior rights holders have rushed their ancient documents to analysts in the Division of Water Rights in Sacramento.Oroville’s Richvale Irrigation District asserted rights dating back to the 1870s for construction of flumes and pipes for long-gone Cherokee Mines.STOCKTON — A 143-year-old piece of paper proves that Rudy Mussi has a legal right to water from the gently meandering Middle River that nourishes his family farm.But the same piece of paper — a “certificate of purchase,” signed in florid 19th-century handwriting and faded to near illegibility — also is proof to a growing number of critics that California has outgrown its water rights system.
His family’s right to a ditch on a small Quincy reservoir dates back to 1870. While he’s voluntarily made big cutbacks, Forbes said, “My water rights are written into the deed, then passed on.” The junior rights holders, who planted in the arid grasslands and deserts in the southern and western parts of the San Joaquin Valley after 1914, are even far down the pecking order and have already had their water cut.Unlike most others in the Central Valley, Mussi said, the Delta farmers can’t just drill wells to make up for fewer water allocations.That’s because their groundwater is so salty that it’s lethal to crops.A UC Davis analysis shows that California’s water is heavily oversubscribed, with five times more water committed to these rights holders than flows through all the state’s rivers and streams combined.Because the state promised more water than it can deliver, farmers such as Mussi — who shares the farm with his brother, son, nephews and their families — are angry that their generations-old rights are being eroded.worthless in their natural condition” by a 19th century New York Times correspondent.While most Eastern states recognize riparian rights, California and Oklahoma are the only states west of the Mississippi River that continue to recognize them — and they are governed by few laws and frequently litigated.One of those bedrooms, I’m going to use it.'” Who, where and what rights will be curtailed in coming weeks remains to be determined, water officials say.Cutoffs will be based on flows in the watershed — and how long rights have been held.A second type of senior right — called a “pre-1914” right because that’s the year California established an official permit process for its chaotic and litigious water rights landscape — is equally historic.And, until now, it also has been subject to minimal state oversight.