Topic: Water Rights

Overview

Water Rights

California hosts a substantial, complicated water rights system that allocates water across the state. In addition to a dual system — riparian and appropriate rights — today state courts are recognizing expanded public trust values in determining how the state’s water resources should be best used.

Water rights are governed mostly by state law. Water quality issues, which may affect allocation, are regulated separately by both federal and state laws. Water rights can be quite contentious.

Aquafornia news Fresh Water News

Tribal breakthrough? Four states, six tribes announce first formal talks on Colorado River negotiating authority

Colorado and three other Upper Colorado River Basin states have, for the first time in history, embarked on a series of formal meetings to find a way to negotiate jointly with some of the largest owners of Colorado River water rights: tribal communities. The states, which include New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, began meeting with six tribes several weeks ago, according to Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who also represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Basin Commission.

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Aquafornia news Agri-Pulse Communications

Agriculture hails court victory, amid ‘slow erosion’ of water rights

A court ruling last week over senior water rights came as welcome news to agricultural interests that have long battled the State Water Resources Control Board over drought curtailments. Yet while the decision sets a limit on the board’s authority, the agency retains several regulatory tools for curtailing the diversions, and lawmakers could add more. California’s Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled the board lacks jurisdiction under the state water code “to curtail an entire class of pre-1914 appropriative water rights.” Farmers obtained them before California began regulating water rights in 1913 and have fought hard to preserve them ever since.

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Aquafornia news Press Democrat

With rain in forecast, State Water Board lifts a third of Russian River restrictions

The outlook for rain has prompted state water regulators to lift restrictions on about a third of the Russian River water rights curtailed earlier this summer due to limited supplies in Lake Mendocino and the rest of the system. The State Water Resource Control Board is restoring 294 water rights in the watershed as of Saturday because of a storm expected to bring up to 2½ inches of precipitation to upper elevations beginning Saturday night. The board’s staff expects [this] week to revisit the status of the remaining 596 water rights still curtailed after Saturday to see how much rainfall materializes and how it’s affecting the watershed, said Sam Boland-Brien, supervising engineer with the Division of Water Rights.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Through dry years and wet – and multiple lawsuits – retiring Bakersfield City water leader met challenges cheerfully

Art Chianello, who has led Bakersfield’s Water Resources Department through two of the state’s worst droughts and one of its wettest years on record, is retiring at the end of September. Most municipal water departments are fairly quiet operations. As long as water comes out of taps, not many people pay attention. But the Bakersfield water department is in the unique position of also tracking and managing flows on the Kern River – a highly contentious piece of water – which it partly owns.

Aquafornia news Kronick

Blog: Court rules Water Code section 1052(a) did not allow state to curtail pre-1914 water rights based on 2015 drought conditions

The first appellate court to consider a case regarding California’s curtailments of senior water rights held that the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board” or “Board”) lacked authority under Water Code section 1052(a) to curtail pre-1914 water rights based on the unavailability of water for use under such rights. The curtailment cases began in 2015, in the middle of a multi-year drought, when the State Water Board curtailed the exercise of many water rights across the state in an effort to implement the priority system arising from California’s water laws.

Aquafornia news Western Water

A Colorado River veteran moves upstream and plunges into the drought-stressed river’s mounting woes

With 25 years of experience working on the Colorado River, Chuck Cullom is used to responding to myriad challenges that arise on the vital lifeline that seven states, more than two dozen tribes and the country of Mexico depend on for water. But this summer problems on the drought-stressed river are piling up at a dizzying pace: Reservoirs plummeting to record low levels, whether Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam can continue to release water and produce hydropower, unprecedented water cuts and predatory smallmouth bass threatening native fish species in the Grand Canyon.

Aquafornia news Modesto Bee

Stanislaus-area water suppliers are at center of court ruling

Water suppliers in and near Stanislaus County had a leading role in a ruling Monday limiting state cutbacks during drought. The 6th Appellate District Court found that the State Water Resources Control Board lacks the power to interfere with so-called “senior” water rights holders and curtail their diversions of water from rivers. The case stems from orders imposed by the state board in 2015, during the previous drought, when it halted farms and cities throughout the Central Valley from taking water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts joined the suit to protect their rights to the Stanislaus River.

Aquafornia news The Associated Press

Increasing pressures on Colorado River water in New Mexico

Colorado River tributaries in New Mexico bring water to the alfalfa fields in the Four Corners and the forested hills of the Gila wilderness in the southwestern part of the state. But Colorado River and reservoir management was designed during a much wetter period. And now, water officials are grappling with how to make do with less. State Engineer Mike Hamman, New Mexico’s top water manager, said the state “really feels the shortages” because it doesn’t have the big reservoirs of other states in the Colorado River Basin. … Nevada, Arizona and Mexico will all receive less water from the Colorado River next year because of rapidly-declining reservoirs, the Interior Department announced on Aug. 16.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Colorado farmers face difficult questions over future of river water

Surrounding Bernal’s land are the vistas of the Grand Valley, a strip of high desert situated on Colorado’s Western Slope marked by dusty mesas and cliffs and the winding, ever-present Colorado River, which plunges down from the mountains to the east. Grand Valley farmers and ranchers use the water to irrigate tens of thousands of acres, growing everything from peaches and corn to wheat and alfalfa. But since 2000 flows on the river have declined 20% and water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead have dropped to less than 30% of their combined storage. With the river overtaxed, Grand Valley farmers now face difficult questions regarding the future of water in Colorado and the West. 

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Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: California’s drought regulators lose big case. What it means for state’s power to police water

California’s drought regulators have lost a major lawsuit that could undermine their legal authority to stop farms and cities from pulling water from rivers and streams. With California in its third punishing year of a historic drought, an appeals court ruled Monday that the State Water Resources Control Board lacks the power to interfere with so-called “senior” water rights holders and curtail their diversions of water from rivers. The case stems from orders imposed by the state board in 2015, during the previous drought, when it halted farms and cities throughout the Central Valley from taking water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. … [Brian Gray, a water-rights expert at the Public Policy Institute of California] said the court’s ruling did suggest that the board could exercise its authority over senior rights holders by using emergency powers granted by the governor.

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Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: California is negotiating up to 400,000 acre-feet in Colorado River water cuts amid drought

California water agencies that depend on Colorado River supply are quietly negotiating combined reductions of between 320,000 and 400,000 acre-feet from the fast-dwindling Lake Mead reservoir next year…. California has the largest and oldest rights to Colorado River water, totaling 4.4 million acre-feet per year, with the bulk of that piped to farmers served by the Imperial Irrigation District, at the state’s hot, dry southeastern end…. It’s unclear if the amounts being discussed would be enough to assuage harsh criticism from officials in other river basin states who are already being forced to make cuts under previous legal agreements, or more importantly, to satisfy federal officials who say 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in reduced use is needed from seven states in 2022 to keep the system and its huge, drought-ravaged reservoirs afloat. 

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Broad-based buy-in is key to Bay-Delta water plan

California is at a transformational moment when it comes to managing water. As aridification of the western United States intensifies, we have an opportunity to advance a better approach to flow management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and our rivers through a process of voluntary agreements to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The agreements, signed by parties from Red Bluff to San Diego, propose a new structure for managing water resources in the Delta and beyond in a way that is collaborative, innovative and foundational for adapting to climate realities while benefiting communities, farms, fish and wildlife.
-Written by Jennifer Pierre, the general manager of the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 public water agencies; and David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association, which represents Sacramento Valley water interests.

Aquafornia news Cronkite News

Monday Top of the Scroll: Angry at other states, Arizona towns, tribes rethink planned water cuts

Faced with deep cuts to the water supply, and angry that other states are not doing their share, tribes and local governments in Arizona are increasingly talking about backing off earlier offers to give up some water. The Gila River Indian Community said in August that it will begin storing water underground “rather than contributing them to system conservation programs for Lake Mead.” Officials in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson, Peoria and Glendale are considering following suit, asking to get their full allotment of water instead of financial compensation they might have received for reducing their take from the system…. But a spokesperson for the California Natural Resources Agency said the state has long been working for years to conserve Colorado River water and that it is continuing to do so. 

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Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

Colorado River megadrought got you down? Lighten up, and feel some hope, with TikTok’s ‘WesternWaterGirl’

Teal Lehto honed her short, snappy explanations of the West’s complex water problems guiding rafting trips down the Animas River in her hometown of Durango. She often had lulls of a minute or less in between shouting paddle commands to the tourists in her boat — squeezing in a tidy explanation of how water rights work before yelling “all forward” to her boatmates to keep them from ramming into rocks. After running the same stretch of river a few times a day for months, the timing became second nature. … That same formula works on TikTok, just trade the tips for likes and followers. On the app, Lehto goes by “WesternWaterGirl,” and her clips regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views. Since joining the app in April, she’s amassed nearly 48,000 followers who tune in for her fast-paced, snarky and often profanity-laced takes on the West’s water crisis.

Aquafornia news KJZZ - Phoenix

AZ Republicans and Democrats sign letters on Colorado River water

Divvying up Colorado River water has been the subject of at least two letters this week from Republican and Democratic members of Arizona’s congressional delegation. One note was sent to the head of the U.S. Department of Interior and the other to the governor of California. A letter signed by Republicans Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar calls on the Interior secretary to quickly help with negotiations between states that rely on the Colorado River. The lawmakers also want the feds to make California take water cuts proportional to its usage.

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Aquafornia news Turlock Journal

TID moves closer to voluntary agreement with state water board

Turlock Irrigation District’s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to move toward a voluntary agreement that would supersede flow requirements within the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.  That plan was first adopted in 2018, but the flow requirements never have been implemented. But since then, the plan has been the flashpoint for a debate — in simplest terms, think of it as fish vs. farms — that pits the environmental groups, such as the Tuolumne River Trust, against public utilities, such as the Turlock Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Those three agencies share the Tuolumne River’s water rights.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Video: What is 2nd Point on the Kern River?

This is the third in a series of videos attempting to break down and explain who owns the Kern River. Structures along the river measure its flows and then divvy it up between its historic owners. So, it’s important to understand these structures, where they are and how they work. We looked at First Point of measurement in our last video. That’s where the flows are first measured. Those measurements have a direct impact on the structure we visit in this video, which is called Second Point of measurement.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Climate change is ravaging the Colorado River. There’s a model to avert the worst.

The water managers of the Yakima River basin in arid Central Washington know what it’s like to fight over water, just like their counterparts along the Colorado River are fighting now. … But a decade ago, the water managers of the Yakima Basin tried something different. Tired of spending more time in courtrooms than at conference tables, and faced with studies showing the situation would only get worse, they hashed out a plan to manage the Yakima River and its tributaries for the next 30 years to ensure a stable supply of water. 

Aquafornia news Estuary News Magazine

Drought plan means full lake, empty river

In the mountains and foothills of California, an enduring drought has depleted the state’s major reserves of water. … But in the central Sierra Nevada, a trio of artificial lakes remain flush with cold mountain water. The largest of them, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, from which millions of Bay Area residents receive water, is more than 80 percent full. … But some environmental advocates are hardly cheering San Francisco’s water conservation success. Instead, they’re accusing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission of hoarding its water through an excessively conservative management plan they say harms the environment and benefits almost no one – not even the city dwellers who use the water.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Newsom’s water strategy needs to go a step further

Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom released his water supply strategy, which is designed to address California’s warming climate and increasing drought intensity. Central to this strategy is expanding storage to capture water during wet periods and to help urban and agricultural users make it through dry times. But why stop there? What about storing water for the environment? … We propose a change in course. Using a simple reservoir model, we demonstrate that ecosystem managers can achieve better environmental outcomes when they are granted a percentage of reservoir inflow along with a portion of storage capacity. Flexibly managed, this combination of inflow and storage leads to the most efficient use of environmental water.
-Written by Sarah Null, 2021–22 CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; and Jeffrey Mount, a geomorphologist, is a senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center.

Aquafornia news Natural Resources Defense Council

Blog: Californians want water rights reform

Without reform, California’s [water rights] system means that the most senior water rights holders—those who declared the water theirs during the violent and exclusionary settling of California in the late 1800s, early 1900s, predominantly irrigation districts—get first claim to the available water, while water for people to drink and bathe and water for the environment only get the leftovers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This century-old system of water rights does not reflect current values, and it should not dictate how the state prioritizes our limited water supplies. FM3 recently polled Californians to obtain their views on a variety of matters, including our water rights system. 

Aquafornia news Ojai Valley News

Water lawsuit parties say they need more time

Major parties in a water lawsuit involving thousands of Ojai Valley property owners say they need more time to complete ongoing mediation talks. During an Aug. 25 status conference in the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication case, attorney Shawn Hagerty, representing the city of Ventura, said the parties are “working hard” and “making progress,” but there’s still “a lot of work to be done.” A six-month stay in the case granted March 29 by Highberger is set to expire on Sept. 30.

Related article:

Aquafornia news San Francisco Standard

Is SF hoarding water? One environmental group wants the city to get real about its planning 

An environmental group is arguing that the city’s water agency is taking too much water from the Sierra Nevadas, and that its drought planning will wind up hoarding water unnecessarily and hurting vulnerable river ecosystems.  The group, Tuolomne River Trust, says its pleadings have fallen on deaf ears up until now. But with the state mulling the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, a plan that would reduce the city’s rights to water from the Tuolomne River, the question of whether San Francisco controls more than its fair share of water is back up for discussion and spilled over into a meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday. 

Aquafornia news The Gazette

Ignored for decades, Colorado River tribes fight for their water rights

Navajo Nation residents in pickup trucks rumbled along dusty dirt roads in the ethereal painted desert of Monument Valley in August to a well where they fill up water tanks, sometimes multiple times a day. The well spigot in the dirt parking lot next to a shuttered post office in Goulding, Utah, is just up the road from modern lodges that house tourists visiting the valley, one of the most iconic settings for Western movies. … The Navajo, or Diné, have heard for decades the promise of running water in their homes. Many have yet to see it, and they don’t expect it to arrive any time soon.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Watch: History of water poaching in California

Southern Californians know about neighbors using more than their fair share of water. But what about growers who steal water from farms, businesses or even houses? L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison looked at the long history of poaching in California and how it relates to today’s water fights. Here’s what Patt says. Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99. 

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

As the Colorado River dries, tribes see indigenous water management as essential

Native people have lived in the Southwestern U.S. for millennia and have traditional ways to manage water that have worked for them. When settlers arrived, they upended that system. Now, tribes in the Colorado River Basin are trying to elevate indigneous approaches to water management. University of Arizona doctoral candidate Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan is finishing a dissertation on the history of land and water in the San Xavier District, part of the Tohono O’odham Nation, just south of Tucson. Some of her research has taken her to the Santa Cruz River. On a quiet stretch tall trees, made archways and provided shade from the sun.

A Colorado River Tribal Leader Seeks A Voice In the River’s Future–And Freedom to Profit From Its Water
WESTERN WATER Q&A: CRIT Chair Amelia Flores Says Allowing Tribe to Lease Or Store Water Off Reservation Could Aid Broader Colorado River Drought Response and Fund Irrigation Repairs

Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.As water interests in the Colorado River Basin prepare to negotiate a new set of operating guidelines for the drought-stressed river, Amelia Flores wants her Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to be involved in the discussion. And she wants CRIT seated at the negotiating table with something invaluable to offer on a river facing steep cuts in use: its surplus water.

CRIT, whose reservation lands in California and Arizona are bisected by the Colorado River, has some of the most senior water rights on the river. But a federal law enacted in the late 1700s, decades before any southwestern state was established, prevents most tribes from sending any of its water off its reservation. The restrictions mean CRIT, which holds the rights to nearly a quarter of the entire state of Arizona’s yearly allotment of river water, is missing out on financial gain and the chance to help its river partners.

Northern California Tour 2022
Field Trip - October 12-14

SOLD OUT – Join the Waitlist!

Explore the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape while learning about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

Water Education Foundation
2151 River Plaza Drive, Suite 205
Sacramento, CA 95833
Tour Nick Gray

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2022
Field Trip - November 2-3

Travel along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.

The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.

Click here to register!

Hampton Inn & Suites Fresno
327 E Fir Ave
Fresno, CA 93720

As Drought Shrinks the Colorado River, A SoCal Giant Seeks Help from River Partners to Fortify its Local Supply
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Metropolitan Water District's wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of Metropolitan's river supply

Metropolitan Water District's advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.  

Central Valley Tour 2022
Field Trip - April 20-22

Central Valley Tour participants at a dam.This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Colorado River Basin Map By Douglas E. Beeman

As the Colorado River Shrinks, Can the Basin Find an Equitable Solution in Sharing the River’s Waters?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Drought and climate change are raising concerns that a century-old Compact that divided the river’s waters could force unwelcome cuts in use for the upper watershed

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, a key Colorado River reservoir that has seen its water level plummet after two decades of drought. Climate scientist Brad Udall calls himself the skunk in the room when it comes to the Colorado River. Armed with a deck of PowerPoint slides and charts that highlight the Colorado River’s worsening math, the Colorado State University scientist offers a grim assessment of the river’s future: Runoff from the river’s headwaters is declining, less water is flowing into Lake Powell – the key reservoir near the Arizona-Utah border – and at the same time, more water is being released from the reservoir than it can sustainably provide.

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2022
Field Trip - March 16-18

The lower Colorado River has virtually every drop allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Tour Nick Gray Jenn Bowles

Northern California Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - October 14

This tour guided participants on a virtual exploration of the Sacramento River and its tributaries and learn about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law By Gary Pitzer

California Weighs Changes for New Water Rights Permits in Response to a Warmer and Drier Climate
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: State Water Board report recommends aligning new water rights to an upended hydrology

The American River in Sacramento in 2014 shows the effects of the 2012-2016 drought. Climate change is expected to result in more frequent and intense droughts and floods. As California’s seasons become warmer and drier, state officials are pondering whether the water rights permitting system needs revising to better reflect the reality of climate change’s effect on the timing and volume of the state’s water supply.

A report by the State Water Resources Control Board recommends that new water rights permits be tailored to California’s increasingly volatile hydrology and be adaptable enough to ensure water exists to meet an applicant’s demand. And it warns that the increasingly whiplash nature of California’s changing climate could require existing rights holders to curtail diversions more often and in more watersheds — or open opportunities to grab more water in climate-induced floods.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - May 20

This event explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour. 

Foundation Event

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
Virtual Workshop Occurred Afternoons of April 22-23

Our Water 101 Workshop, one of our most popular events, offered attendees the opportunity to deepen their understanding of California’s water history, laws, geography and politics.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the workshop was held as an engaging online event on the afternoons of Thursday, April 22 and Friday, April 23.

Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law Jenn Bowles Nick Gray

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond

The Water Education Foundation’s Water 101 Workshop, one of our most popular events, offered attendees the opportunity to deepen their understanding of California’s water history, laws, geography and politics.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop held on Feb. 20, 2020 covered the latest on the most compelling issues in California water. 

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Announcement

Save The Dates For Next Year’s Water 101 Workshop and Lower Colorado River Tour
Applications for 2020 Water Leaders class will be available by the first week of October

Dates are now set for two key Foundation events to kick off 2020 — our popular Water 101 Workshop, scheduled for Feb. 20 at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, and our Lower Colorado River Tour, which will run from March 11-13.

In addition, applications will be available by the first week of October for our 2020 class of Water Leaders, our competitive yearlong program for early to mid-career up-and-coming water professionals. To learn more about the program, check out our Water Leaders program page.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2020
Field Trip - March 11-13

This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139

Central Coast Tour 2019
Field Trip - November 6-7

This 2-day, 1-night tour offered participants the opportunity to learn about water issues affecting California’s scenic Central Coast and efforts to solve some of the challenges of a region struggling to be sustainable with limited local supplies that have potential applications statewide.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

As Shortages Loom in the Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Seek to Secure Their Water Rights
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: A study of tribal water rights could shed light on future Indian water use

Aerial view of the lower Colorado RiverAs the Colorado River Basin becomes drier and shortage conditions loom, one great variable remains: How much of the river’s water belongs to Native American tribes?

Native Americans already use water from the Colorado River and its tributaries for a variety of purposes, including leasing it to non-Indian users. But some tribes aren’t using their full federal Indian reserved water right and others have water rights claims that have yet to be resolved. Combined, tribes have rights to more water than some states in the Colorado River Basin.

Western Water Klamath River Watershed Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

California Leans Heavily on its Groundwater, But Will a Court Decision Tip the Scales Against More Pumping?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Pumping near the Scott River in Siskiyou County sparks appellate court ruling extending public trust doctrine to groundwater connected to rivers

Scott River, in Siskiyou County. In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.

Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.

Northern California Tour 2019
Field Trip - October 2-4

This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of Oroville Dam spillway repairs.

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
One-day workshop included optional groundwater tour

One of our most popular events, our annual Water 101 Workshop details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop on Feb. 7 gave attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resources.

 Optional Groundwater Tour

On Feb. 8, we jumped aboard a bus to explore groundwater, a key resource in California. Led by Foundation staff and groundwater experts Thomas Harter and Carl Hauge, retired DWR chief hydrogeologist, the tour visited cities and farms using groundwater, examined a subsidence measuring station and provided the latest updates on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Amid ‘Green Rush’ of Legal Cannabis, California Strives to Control Adverse Effects on Water
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: State crafts water right and new rules unique to marijuana farms, but will growers accustomed to the shadows comply?

A marijuana plant from a growing operationFor decades, cannabis has been grown in California – hidden away in forested groves or surreptitiously harvested under the glare of high-intensity indoor lamps in suburban tract homes.

In the past 20 years, however, cannabis — known more widely as marijuana – has been moving from being a criminal activity to gaining legitimacy as one of the hundreds of cash crops in the state’s $46 billion-dollar agriculture industry, first legalized for medicinal purposes and this year for recreational use.

Tour

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
Event included optional Delta Tour

One of our most popular events, Water 101 details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop gives attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resource.

McGeorge School of Law
3285 5th Ave, Classroom C
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Does California’s Environment Deserve its Own Water Right?
IN-DEPTH: Fisheries and wildlife face growing challenges, but so do water systems competing for limited supply. Is there room for an environmental water right?

Sunset in Sacramento-San Joaquin DeltaDoes California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.

Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Northern California Tour 2018

This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of repair efforts on the Oroville Dam spillway. 

Tour

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2018

Participants of this tour snaked along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.

Fishery worker capturing a fish in the San Joaquin River.

The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.

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Mojave River

Flowing into the heart of the Mojave Desert, the Mojave River exists mostly underground. Surface channels are usually dry absent occasional groundwater surfacing and flooding from extreme weather events like El Niño

Western Water Magazine

Allocating Water in a Time of Scarcity: Is it Time to Reform Water Rights?
July/August 2015

This issue looks at how California’s severe drought has put its water rights system under scrutiny, raising the question whether a complete overhaul is necessary to better allocate water use.

Western Water Excerpt Jenn Bowles

Allocating Water in a Time of Scarcity: Is it Time to Reform Water Rights?
July/August 2015

California’s severe drought has put its water rights system under scrutiny, raising the question whether a complete overhaul is necessary to better allocate water use.

(Read the excerpt below from the July/August 2015 issue along with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western Water and get full access.)

Introduction

California’s severe drought has put its water rights system under scrutiny, raising the question whether a complete overhaul is necessary to better allocate water use.

Western Water Excerpt Jenn Bowles

Does California Need a Water Court?
July/August 2014

Before attorneys wrangled in courtrooms over questions of water rights, people typically took matters into their own hands. If your neighbor up river was damming water that affected your supply, it wasn’t unheard of that you would simply sneak up in the middle of the night and blow up the dam.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (20 min. DVD)

20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues related to complex water management disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances Fisher.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (60 min. DVD)

For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and California border has faced complex water management disputes. As relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp, farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists – all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water. After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the documentary here.

Video

Stormwater Management: Turning Runoff into a Resource

20-minute DVD that explains the problem with polluted stormwater, and steps that can be taken to help prevent such pollution and turn what is often viewed as a “nuisance” into a water resource through various activities.

Video

Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (60-minute DVD)

Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from, how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress Wendie Malick. 

Video

Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (30-minute DVD)

A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state.

Video

Shaping of the West: 100 Years of Reclamation

30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.

Video

Water on the Edge (60-minute DVD)

Water truly has shaped California into the great state it is today. And if it is water that made California great, it’s the fight over – and with – water that also makes it so critically important. In efforts to remap California’s circulatory system, there have been some critical events that had a profound impact on California’s water history. These turning points not only forced a re-evaluation of water, but continue to impact the lives of every Californian. This 2005 PBS documentary offers a historical and current look at the major water issues that shaped the state we know today. Includes a 12-page viewer’s guide with background information, historic timeline and a teacher’s lesson.

Maps & Posters

Klamath River Watershed Map
Published 2011

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The map text explains the many issues facing this vast, 15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration; agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement, and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Maps & Posters

Truckee River Basin Map
Published 2005

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Truckee River Basin, including the Newlands Project, Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe. Map text explains the issues surrounding the use of the Truckee-Carson rivers, Lake Tahoe water quality improvement efforts, fishery restoration and the effort to reach compromise solutions to many of these issues. 

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law
Updated 2020

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing
Updated 2005

The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides background information on water rights, types of transfers and critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in 1996, the 2005 version offers expanded information on groundwater banking and conjunctive use, Colorado River transfers and the role of private companies in California’s developing water market. 

Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project provides an overview of the California-funded and constructed State Water Project.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water
Published 2006

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water provides an overview of the history of water development and use in Nevada. It includes sections on Nevada’s water rights laws, the history of the Truckee and Carson rivers, water supplies for the Las Vegas area, groundwater, water quality, environmental issues and today’s water supply challenges.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater
Updated 2017

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication that provides background and perspective on groundwater. The guide explains what groundwater is – not an underground network of rivers and lakes! – and the history of its use in California.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River
Updated 2018

Cover page for the Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River .

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of significant Colorado River events.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to California Water
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an excellent overview of the history of water development and use in California. It includes sections on flood management; the state, federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for stretching the water supply such as water marketing and conjunctive use. New in this 10th edition of the guide is a section on the human need for water. 

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project explores the history and development of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery system. In addition to the project’s history, the guide describes the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP brought to the state and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law

Water Rights in California

California’s growth has closely paralleled an evolving and complex system of water rights.

After California became a state in 1850, it followed the practice of Eastern states and adopted riparian rights – water rights laws based on ownership of land bordering a waterway.  The riparian property owner—one who lives next to the river— possesses the right to use that water, a right that cannot be transferred apart from the land.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to Water Marketing

Water Marketing

Water Marketing

Water marketing is the transfer or sale of water or water rights from one user to another, typically from an agricultural to an urban water agency, often without investing in new infrastructure

Most exchanges involve a transfer of the resource itself, not a transfer of the right to use the water.

Reallocating the available water on a supply-and-demand basis is viewed by proponents as the best financial, political and environmental means of accommodating an increase in population.

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Riparian Rights

Surface water is water found in rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds. There are a limited number of instances in which water in a defined underground channel is classified as surface water. There are several types of water rights that apply to surface water.

A landowner whose property borders a river has a right to use water from that river on his land. This is called riparian rights.

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Pueblo Water Rights

In addition to riparian and appropriative water rights, there are two other types of surface water rights in California: pueblo rights and federal reserved rights.

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Prescriptive Rights

Prescriptive Rights are water use rights gained illicitly that evolve into a title. Typically this occurs with rights to chronically overdrafted groundwater basins gained through trespass or unauthorized use.

In California, the California Supreme Court developed the doctrine of prescriptive rights in 1949.

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Henry J. Vaux Jr.

Henry J. Vaux Jr. is the professor of resource economics, emeritus, of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Riverside.

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Water Rights Terms

Adjudicate -To determine rights by a lawsuit in court.

Appropriative Right – A right based on physical control of water and since 1914 in relation to surface water, a state-issued permit or license for its beneficial use. Appropriative water rights in California are divided into pre-1914 and post-1914 rights, depending on whether they were initiated after the December 19, 1914 effective date of the Water Commission Act of 1913. Post-1914 rights can only be initiated by filing an application and obtaining a permit from the state. The program is now administered by the State Water Resources Control Board. 

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Groundwater Banking

An aerial view of a groundwater bank

Groundwater banking is a process of diverting floodwaters or other surface water into an aquifer where it can be stored until it is needed later. In a twist of fate, the space made available by emptying some aquifers opened the door for the banking activities used so extensively today.

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Groundwater Adjudication

When multiple parties withdraw water from the same aquifer, groundwater pumpers can ask the court to adjudicate, or hear arguments for and against, to better define the rights that various entities have to use groundwater resources. This is known as  groundwater adjudication. [See also California water rights and Groundwater Law.]

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Federal Reserved Rights

Federal reserved rights were created when the United States reserved land from the public domain for uses such as Indian reservations, military bases and national parks, forests and monuments.  [See also Pueblo Rights].

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Appropriative Rights

Appropriative Rights

California law allows surface water to be diverted at one point and used (appropriated) beneficially at a separate point.

This is in contrast to a riparian right, which is based on ownership of the property adjacent to the water.

Western Water Magazine

Overdrawn at the Bank: Managing California’s Groundwater
January/February 2014

This printed issue of Western Water looks at California groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by local, regional and state management. For more background information on groundwater please refer to the Founda­tion’s Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.

Western Water Magazine

Meeting the Co-equal Goals? The Bay Delta Conservation Plan
May/June 2013

This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying California’s long-term water supply reliability.

Western Water Magazine

How Much Water Does the Delta Need?
July/August 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they might be provided.

Western Water Magazine

Saving it For Later: Groundwater Banking
July/August 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines groundwater banking, a water management strategy with appreciable benefits but not without challenges and controversy.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Whose Water Is It? Area of Origin Water Rights
March/April 2010

“Let me state, clearly and finally, the Interior Department is fully and completely committed to the policy that no water which is needed in the Sacramento Valley will be sent out of it. There is no intent on the part of the Bureau of Reclamation ever to divert from the Sacramento Valley a single acre-foot of water which might be used in the valley now or later.” – J.A. Krug, Secretary of the Interior, Oct. 12, 1948, speech at Oroville, CA

Western Water Magazine

Whose Water Is It? Area of Origin Water Rights
March/April 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines the area of origin laws, what they mean to those who claim their protections and the possible implications of the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation.

Western Water Magazine

Making a Future for Fish: Preserving and Restoring Native Salmon and Trout
January/February 2009

This printed copy of Western Water examines the native salmon and trout dilemma – the extent of the crisis, its potential impact on water deliveries and the lengths to which combined efforts can help restore threatened and endangered species.

Western Water Magazine

Finding a Vision for the Delta
March/April 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines the Delta through the many ongoing activities focusing on it, most notably the Delta Vision process. Many hours of testimony, research, legal proceedings, public hearings and discussion have occurred and will continue as the state seeks the ultimate solution to the problems tied to the Delta.

Western Water Magazine

Remnants of the Past: Management Challenges of Terminal Lakes
January/February 2005

This issue of Western Water examines the challenges facing state, federal and tribal officials and other stakeholders as they work to manage terminal lakes. It includes background information on the formation of these lakes, and overviews of the water quality, habitat and political issues surrounding these distinctive bodies of water. Much of the information in this article originated at the September 2004 StateManagement Issues at Terminal Water Bodies/Closed Basins conference.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt Sudman

The Mojave River Basin Decision
Sept/Oct 2000

Priority: the right to precedence over others in obtaining, buying, or doing something – Webster’s New World College Dictionary 

First in time, first in right has long served as one guiding principle of water law in California. Simply put, this priority system generally holds that the first person to claim water and use it has a right superior to subsequent claims. In times of shortage, it is the most junior of water rights holders who must cut back use first.

Western Water Magazine

Managing the Colorado River
November/December 1999

Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999 in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional water development of the past has given way to a more collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment while stretching available water supplies.