As California’s Central Valley struggles through one of the worst droughts in state history, a group of farmers say the region was illegally denied access to water by the state.

The Friant Water Authority, a water-rights advocacy group representing thousands of farmers from the San Joaquin Valley, has filed a suit against the California State Water Resources Board, which took emergency measures this year to ration California’s dwindling water reserves.

An executive order issued in late April by California Gov. Jerry Brown increased the scope of the agency’s authority, but east Valley farmers say ration policies from the board prevented farmers, including those with “senior water rights”, from getting any of the water needed to sustain their farms.

While farming operations suffered and unemployment rates approached historical highs in the Valley, wildlife refuges and California’s State Water Project which provides water to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco were given priority over the senior water-rights holders whose claims reach as far back as the 1800s.

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