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 Downey Brand LLP - JDSupra

Blog: Full quantification of water rights not required for CEQA review, Second District declares

On March 22, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal published its Opinion in Buena Vista Water Storage District v. Kern Water Bank Authority, upholding the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Kern Water Bank Authority’s Conservation and Storage Project (“Project”) and reversing the trial court’s ruling. The Project proposes to divert up to 500,000 acre-feet-per-year (AFY) from the Kern River for recharge, storage, and later recovery within the Kern Water Bank.

Aquafornia news Jefferson Public Radio

The conservation case for emergency rules on groundwater in the Scott and Shasta basins

The fish need the water, the farmers and ranchers need the water, and the fish win. Because coho salmon are on the Endangered Species List in the region, and the Scott and Shasta Rivers are important to their survival. The State of California put emergency rules in place governing groundwater around those rivers, and the people in agriculture take exception. We hear the environmental side of the issue in this interview. Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe, lays out the importance of the water for the fish …

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Sacramento Valley struggles to survive record water cuts

Three years ago, when he sank everything he had into 66 acres of irrigated pasture in Shasta County, [farmer Josh] Davy thought he’d drought-proofed his cattle operation. He’d been banking on the Sacramento Valley’s water supply… But this spring, for the first time ever, no water is flowing through his pipes and canals or those of his neighbors: The district won’t be delivering any water to Davy or any of its roughly 800 other customers.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Blog: Drought, groundwater restrictions and – oh yeah, drought – pervade talk at annual Kern water summit

Local and state water leaders were practically upbeat two years ago at the last in-person Water Summit put on by the Water Association of Kern County. At least as upbeat as California water folks typically get. They advocated for new ideas, radical partnerships and solutions that could benefit both ag and environmental interests. That was then. Facing a third year of punishing drought and the bleak realities of new groundwater restrictions, the vibe at this year’s summit was more “in the bunker” than “in it together.”

Related article:

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Commentary: A creative approach can help Russian River, farmers

On May 10, the California State Water Resources Control Board readopted an emergency regulation that stands to force 2,000 water-rights holders to curtail water diversions for another year. (See related story on Page 10.) The emergency action is being used to make water available to senior diverters, minimum instream flows and minimum health and human safety needs. … As an alternative to a full curtailment action being applied to a diverter, water-right holders in the upper watershed (north of Dry Creek in Sonoma County) can instead voluntarily sign up to participate in the program to receive some lower percentage of their typical reported water use.
-Written by Frost Pauli, a Mendocino County winegrape and pear grower and is chair of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau Water Committee. 

Aquafornia news Porterville Recorder

Hurtado calls for a crackdown on water profiteering

On Wednesday, State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger joined her colleague, Democratic State Senator Dave Cortese in sending a letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting an investigation into possible drought profiteering and water rights abuses in the Western states.  The Senators said they’re concerned about the increasing amount of water rights being purchased by hedge funds, their potential anti-competitive practices and the devastating impact that could have on water security.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Public News Service

Water wars court case to decide fate of Long Valley in rural Mono County

Conservation groups are speaking out in support of water rights in rural Mono County, saying thirsty Los Angeles is endangering wildlife, ranching and tourism. All parties are awaiting the judge’s decision after a recent hearing, where the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) argued it has the right to cut off water ranchers use to irrigate Long Valley and Little Round Valley for cattle grazing near the Crowley Lake Reservoir. Wendy Schneider, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Inyo, said the DWP bought up water rights 100 years ago, but the Eastern Sierra is getting the short end of the stick.

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Farmers across state face new water cuts

With 60% of the state now in extreme drought conditions, state officials are warning water-right holders that they should expect more curtailments during peak irrigation season in June and July. … Drought emergency curtailment regulations were issued last fall by the California State Water Resources Control Board for certain watersheds in response to persistent dry conditions and spurred by a drought emergency declaration by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Curtailment orders adopted last year are effective for up to one year unless readopted.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Lemoore launches salvo against effort to swipe to Kings River floodwater

Lemoore is speaking out against the efforts of an out of town water entity to export water from the Kings River. The Lemoore City Council approved a letter in opposition to a petition to revoke the Fully Appropriated Stream (FAS) status of the Kings River on Tuesday. The letter is directed to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is hearing a petition from Kern County water agency Semitropic Water Storage District to revoke the FAS status.

Aquafornia news Comstock's magazine

The lasting agreement: California’s long legacy of trying to solve its water problem

If there’s one thing people in the West know how to fight over, it’s water. California was built on scarcity, whether it be gold or silver, land or water. In the mid-1800s, when European Americans arrived to the land where Indigenous people had lived for at least 10,000 years, they wasted no time staking their claims. A big head-scratcher for those early colonizers was how to get water to sustain burgeoning towns. 

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

New bill aims to boost tribal access to clean water

Two recent moves aim to benefit water access for tribal communities in the Colorado River basin. One, a bill in the U.S. Congress, could increase access to clean water. Another, the release of a “shared vision” statement, outlines the goals of tribes and conservation nonprofits. Tribes in the basin hold rights to about a quarter of the river’s flow, but have often been excluded from negotiations about how the river’s water is used.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Sonora Union-Democrat

Tuolumne County elected officials support acquiring PG&E water rights and infrastructure, but questions remain

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council generally liked what they heard Tuesday from Tuolumne Utilities District staff in a special, non-action joint meeting Tuesday about TUD’s plan to acquire Pacific Gas and Electric Co.-owned water rights and infrastructure. A county supervisor emphasized there may be urgent incentive for TUD to close the deal because other water agencies from the Central Valley expressed keen interest in PG&E’s assets in Tuolumne County back in June 2019.

Aquafornia news Calexico Chronicle

IID preparing water apportionment plan

The Imperial Irrigation District is preparing a water apportionment plan for Imperial Valley growers to rein in a projected water overrun after the federal government declared a water shortage, reducing the amount of water that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico can claim from the Colorado River. The IID holds the largest and most secure federal entitlement on the Colorado River, but current Bureau of Reclamation projections show the district exceeding its allocation by more than 92,000 acre-feet of water this year…. IID’s Ag Water Advisory Committee was scheduled to review the EDP proposal on Thursday, May 12.

Aquafornia news Jefferson Public Radio

California water regulators weigh renewing emergency drought restrictions in the Scott and Shasta rivers

California water regulators hosted a public forum on Wednesday to collect comments about re-adopting drought emergency regulations for Siskiyou County’s Scott and Shasta River watersheds. … In response [to current drought conditions], the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is requesting the re-adoption of a 12-month drought emergency regulation to protect salmon, steelhead and other native fish. 

Aquafornia news Arizona Public Radio

Bill introduced to ratify Hualapai Tribe water settlement

Congress will consider a bill finalizing a water rights settlement for the Hualapai Tribe in Arizona. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, it will resolve the tribe’s longstanding claims to the Colorado, Bill Williams, and Verde rivers. Arizona Representative Tom O’Halleran introduced the bill to a House committee last week. It allows the Hualapai Tribe to divert 3,414 acre feet of water from the Colorado River each year. It also establishes a trust fund of $180 million to construct a project to convey the water to the Hualapai Reservation. A separate fund of $5 million will be set aside for carrying out the terms of the agreement.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University

Report: Insights gained on agricultural water conservation for water security in the Upper Colorado River Basin

A series of hot, dry years in the Upper Colorado River Basin has led to increasing concern about the security of water supplies at region-wide and local scales…. Without a strategic, collaborative approach to addressing these issues, there is a risk that individual entities will act independently to secure their water supplies against climate and legal uncertainties. This could lead to more permanent transfers from agriculture, with detrimental impacts on rural communities and unpredictable impacts on river ecosystems.

As Drought Shrinks the Colorado River, A SoCal Giant Seeks Help from River Partners to Fortify its Local Supply
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.  

Aquafornia news Natural Resources Defense Council

Blog: Water rights, and wrongs, in California

It’s time that California’s water management caught up with current realities and lived up to the laws on the books. But that is unlikely to happen until more people understand the violent, racist, and exclusionary history that props up our current system of water rights and understand that we are not stuck with this system – we can choose to reject it and adopt, instead, a system of water management that reflects current societal values.

Aquafornia news Brownstein

Blog: Nevada district court strikes down state engineer’s creation of ‘superbasin’

On April 19, 2022, Clark County District Court Judge Bita Yeager issued a decision vacating the Nevada State Engineer’s (State Engineer) June 15, 2020, Order 1309. Under Order 1309, the State Engineer merged seven independently designated hydrographic basins into one basin known as the Lower White River Flow System (LWRFS) to be conjunctively managed. The State Engineer did so based on scientific evidence as to the previously delineated basins’ hydrological connection. 

Aquafornia news New York Magazine

The multistate battle over the Colorado River

In March, the water level of Lake Powell declined below a threshold at which the Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate power becomes threatened, and the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the West’s water infrastructure, is working with the states above Lake Powell to divert more water to keep its dam operational. Meanwhile, the states around Lake Mead have been hashing out the details of a plan to voluntarily curtail their use to prevent even more dramatic cuts to Arizona and Nevada from going into effect next year.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Arizona Central

Opinion: Water policy threatens our food supply as much as war in Ukraine

As the Ukraine war kindles fears of rising food prices, the recognition of a secure domestic food supply – driven in large part by irrigated agriculture in the Western U.S. – is something we need to talk about. … Government water policy decisions made in California and Oregon are currently withholding once-reliable water from farmers in order to meet perceived environmental priorities. In simple terms, our own government is actually voluntarily directing measures that restrict water to farmers. Sadly, this diminishes our food production capacity, and with it, our national security.
-Written by Paul Orme and Dan Keppen, both of the Family Farm Alliance.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Klamath Tribes: Plan will devastate critically endangered sucker fish

A Native American tribe in Oregon said Tuesday it is assessing its legal options after learning the U.S. government plans to release water from a federally operated reservoir to downstream farmers along the Oregon-California border amid a historic drought. Even limited irrigation for the farmers who use Klamath River water on about 300 square miles of crops puts two critically endangered fish species in peril of extinction because the water withdrawals come at the height of spawning season, The Klamath Tribes said. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

L.A. gets less water from Mono Lake due to declining levels

With a third year of drought shrinking the creeks that cascade down the eastern Sierra Nevada, the level of Mono Lake has fallen so low it has triggered a 72% reduction in the amount of water Los Angeles can divert from area streams this year. On April 1, Mono Lake‘s level measured just under 6,380 feet above sea level — about 1 inch below a threshold set in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s licenses for diverting alpine runoff from streams that feed the lake east of Yosemite National Park.

Related articles: 

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?
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.

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. 

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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. 

Aquapedia background

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.

Aquapedia background

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.]

Aquapedia background

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].

Aquapedia background

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.