Despite some easing earlier this month of water restrictions for some users, senior water rights holders on the Yuba River remain unable to divert water due to a lack of natural flows in the system, state officials said.

Earlier this month, some senior water rights holders on the Sacramento and Feather rivers were given relief from diversion curtailment orders from the state.

But the Yuba River was not included in that order from the State Water Resources Control Board.

The impacts of the continued curtailment appear to be minimal for the four affected water rights holders, and the curtailments have not impacted water supplies and deliveries from the Yuba County Water Agency, said General Manager Curt Aikens. YCWA, however, remains uncertain why the Yuba River was not included in the order, Aikens said.

"This is a complicated subject for the Yuba River due to the complexity of the system and the various water right holders in the watershed," Aikens said in an email. "In these dry conditions, and this time of year when diversions are typically much lower than during the summer, a few tens of cubic feet per second can make the difference between sufficient and insufficient natural flow for senior water rights."

The state water board projected that the river's natural flow did not meet anticipated demand from senior water rights holders, said Kathy Mrowka, program manager for enforcement for the water board.

"We looked at every piece of information we had, and there wasn't enough supply," Mrowka said.

Water board spokesman Tim Moran said that projected October demand jumps considerably due to 2014 reported demands from the Nevada Irrigation District and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

"While the recent increase in the Yuba River daily full natural flow is promising, we will need an established elevated trend to support (lifting the curtailment)," Moran said.

One of the four water rights holders, the Hallwood Irrigation Company, still has contract water from YCWA to meet demands, said Mike Filice, who sits on the board of directors.

"The impact is not that bad for us, even though there is a curtailment," Filice said. "It's not bothering our operations."

Sib Fedora, a walnut farmer in Sutter County near Meridian, had his curtailment on the Sacramento River lifted, but said his newfound ability to divert water did little to impact his farm.

"It was too little, too late for us," Fedora said. "We're in harvest now. We had some crops suffer, but that's the way it goes."

David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association, which represents most local water districts, said the lifted curtailments were a good start to the fall. He also said that more curtailments could end some time in October.

Guy was also unclear why the water board didn't include the Yuba River in the order. But he said that the ability to divert water on the Sacramento and Feather rivers will give some flexibility in the water supply for migratory bird habitat, an area of concern this winter due to the drought.

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780.


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