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 Antelope Valley Press

RCSD eyes eminent domain process to obtain water rights

The Rosamond Community Services District Board of Directors, on Thursday, agreed to begin eminent domain proceedings to obtain water rights from agricultural land owned by the Calandri family on Rosamond’s west side. The Board unanimously approved a Resolution of Necessity, which declared it in the public interest to acquire the property for the water rights. Ed Lear, a litigation attorney representing the Calandri family, said they will challenge the action as a violation of the water basin adjudication.

Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Yosemite enviro law conference: How Tribal partnerships can help attain national conservation goals

Amy Cordalis is a fisherwoman, attorney, mother, and member of the Yurok Tribe, the largest federally recognized Tribe in California. From 2014-2016, she was General Counsel for the Tribe, the first woman and first Yurok tribal member to serve in that position. She is also the principal of the Ridges to Riffles Conservation Fund, a non-profit fund representing Native American tribes in natural and cultural resource matters.

Aquafornia news Lake County News

Lady of the Lake: Wondering about water rights

I just moved to Lake County and live next to the lake. I heard the other day that Lake County doesn’t have water rights to Clear Lake? Is that correct? Can I take water from the lake to irrigate my garden? I also have a pond on my property and a well, who has rights to those sources of water? Thanks for clearing this up! — Wondering about Water Rights Walter Walter, Thank you for asking these questions. I get asked about water rights quite a bit actually. You are right about Clear Lake’s water rights — they actually belong to Yolo County. 

Aquafornia news Washington Post

Klamath River basin drought leaves families, farms dry, reignites longstanding conflicts

The simple way to think about this crisis: There’s no longer enough water to go around to meet the needs of farmers and Native American populations as well as fish and birds. For more than a century, the federal government has overseen an intricate and imperfect system of water distribution intended to sustain an ecosystem and an economy. The whole precarious balance was based on the assumption that enough snow would always fall…

Related article: 

Aquafornia news The Conversation

Opinion: As climate change parches the Southwest, here’s a better way to share water from the shrinking Colorado River

The Colorado River is a vital lifeline for the arid U.S. Southwest. … Southwestern states, tribes and Mexico share the Colorado’s water under the century-old 1922 Colorado Compact and updates to it. But today, because of climate change and rapid development, there is an enormous gap between the amount of water the compact allocates to parties and the amount that is actually in the river. With users facing unprecedented water shortages, the compact is hopelessly inadequate to deal with current and future realities.
-Written by Daniel Craig McCool, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Utah.

Aquafornia news NBC 7 San Diego

Fallbrook fights for 70 years to use water from nearby river

The Santa Margarita River flows through town but Fallbrook had to fight for 70 years to finally use it. The narrow river winds its way from Riverside County, through Fallbrook, and eventually onto Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. For the longest time, the military base did not want to share the river’s water with Fallbrook. The federal government filed a lawsuit against Fallbrook in 1951. 

Aquafornia news KLAS - Las Vegas

I-Team: ‘Colorado River Compact’ continues to limit how much water Nevada receives

Approximately 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for water, 5% of them, or 2 million are in Nevada. However, the state gets only 1.8% of the river’s water. How did this happen? In 1922, Nevada signed onto the Colorado River Compact. It divided the river between the upper basin (part of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the lower basin (the rest of Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico). … Nevada getting the least, while more than half of the water goes to two states: California and Colorado.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

March for the Kern River

About 30 hardy souls marched the length of the dry Kern River bed — nine miles — from near Manor Street in east Bakersfield all the way to Stockdale Highway Saturday morning to protest the lack of water in the river. At the start of the hike, the group filled bottles and jugs with water from the river, which ends shortly after Manor Street as it’s divvied up by a hydra of irrigation canals.   

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Senior rights holders battle state over water pacts

There are no shortages of critical issues facing Oakdale Irrigation District in central California. As the state looks to take 40% of the district’s springtime river flows, district directors are searching for their next water champion. … In October the State of California informed OID and five other water districts, including the City and County of San Francisco, that it would no longer negotiate over stream flow agreements commonly known as “voluntary agreements.” Under these coerced negotiations, the state seeks to take 40% of river flows…

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Opinion: How much groundwater is rural Arizona using? NASA satellites could give us a better answer

How much groundwater is rural Arizona using? Good question. There are basically no regulations on pumping outside of the state’s five Active Management Areas. So, whoever has the deepest well wins – an approach that is steadily draining aquifers all over the state.
-Written by Joanna Allhands, Arizona Republic columnist. 

Aquafornia news Idaho Capital Sun

‘Climate change is fundamentally altering the Colorado River’: States, tribes deal with drought

States in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly one-third, state and tribal leaders told a congressional panel last month. The situation is likely only to worsen as the climate changes, leaving states and tribes in competition for their most vital resource.

Aquafornia news Paso Robles Daily News

Shandon Water District attempted to appropriate water rights during closed session, DA alleges

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow has issued the Shandon/San Juan Water District a cease and desist order for what Dow says is a violation of the Brown Act. The March 16, 2021, agenda identifies “Potential Litigation” as the sole justification for going into closed session, “however, based on a review of the agenda and the minutes from the meeting it is clear the board of directors went into closed session and discussed matters that did not involve pending litigation,” the DA says.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Managing water stored for the environment during drought

Storing water in reservoirs is important for maintaining freshwater ecosystem health and protecting native species. Stored water also is essential for adapting to the changing climate, especially warming and drought intensification. Yet, reservoir operators often treat environmental objectives as a constraint, rather than as a priority akin to water deliveries for cities and farms. 

Aquafornia news Valley Public Radio

The new state law that could end Tooleville’s fight for clean water

For more than two decades the small Tulare County community of Tooleville has been without a secure supply of safe drinking water. The simplest solution would be to connect the town’s water system to that of its neighbor, the City of Exeter. It would take less than a mile of pipe to get it done. But years of red tape and failed negotiations have kept the consolidation from taking place.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news High Country News

Judge rejects a Trump-era water contract in a win for tribes in California

On Oct. 27, in a victory for tribes in Northern California, Fresno County Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe rejected a Trump-era water contract between the federal Bureau of Reclamation and Westlands Water District, the public entity in charge of distributing water to farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley. … The contract would have given Westlands permanent access to 1.15 million acre-feet of water from the Trinity River … without ensuring that Westlands paid an estimated sixth of the $400 million it owed the Bureau of Reclamation for ecosystem restoration.

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Report: Priorities for California’s water

Water is central to how California adapts to a changing climate. To those of us steeped in the complexities of managing the state’s water resources, the current fast-moving drought—coming on the heels of the record-breaking 2012–16 drought—is a stark reminder that we must accelerate preparation for the disruptive changes underway.

Aquafornia news Sacramento News & Review

Sacramento-area waterways see a rare legal win over SoCal special interests

On October 27, Fresno Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe tossed out the Westlands Water District’s proposed permanent federal water contract from the Central Valley Project that would have allocated roughly double the amount of water from Northern California that Los Angeles residents use in a year.  Tharpe found Westlands, the largest federal irrigation district in the nation, to have “misled the court and the public,” according to a statement from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), one of the organizations that joined in the lawsuit against Westlands.

Aquafornia news Manteca Bulletin

Opinion: Gov. Newsom’s Department of Water Resources minions to poor folks of Kettleman City: Drop dead

If you want to see the future of California fill up your tank with $4.80 per gallon gasoline and take the Golden State autobahn better known as Interstate 5 and head 160 miles south to Kettleman City.  It’s slightly bigger than the proverbial wide spot on the road. It is home to around 1,200 souls of which most are in households where often both parents toil in fields sometimes along with their teen-age children who join them during summers, weekends, and even after school.
-Written by Dennis Wyatt, managing editor of the Manteca Bulletin.   

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

A California town refused to help its neighbors with water. So the state stepped in

Exeter, less than a mile away … has refused to connect Tooleville to its water system. The engineering is simple: 0.7 miles of pipe. The human risk of not doing it is high. Tooleville water is contaminated with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium (chrom-6), and sometimes nitrates linked to agriculture and bacteria….Among a slew of water bills signed in September was one inspired largely by Tooleville’s struggle. Called the “proactive water solutions bill,” SB 403 gives the state the power to mandate and fund consolidation when there is an at-risk water system.

Aquafornia news California Trout

Blog: Holistic approach to water management for Trinity River

A new water management program is being proposed for the Trinity River to help dwindling salmon populations. The Yurok Tribe helped develop the plan through its participation in the Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP), which is comprised of tribal, state, and federal agencies, and then submitted it to the Bureau of Reclamation for approval where it currently lies. The new water release plan will shift some of the water normally released from Lewiston Dam in late spring to the winter and early spring, which will create conditions that more closely mimic a free-flowing river.

Aquafornia news Modesto Bee

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Storms bring pause for state drought orders in Modesto and beyond. They could return

The recent storms allowed California to suspend the drought curtailment orders that had been imposed during the summer. Cities and irrigation districts now are free to capture river runoff that had been unavailable because of the orders. Officials warned that they could fall back into place if the state gets another stretch of dry weather.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Discover Magazine

Yes, people are now trading and investing in water as a commodity

Now California almond farmers and electric utilities, both of which use massive amounts of water, can bet against the future availability of water. And just last year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange started the first-ever futures market for water, meaning farmers, as well as investors, municipalities and hedge funds, can buy a legal agreement known as a “futures contract” that locks in a predetermined price for water that will be used in the future. 

Aquafornia news Press-Enterprise

Art Littleworth, water rights attorney who led move to desegregate Riverside schools, dies

…In 1950, Littleworth joined Best, Best & Krieger and launched a career in water law. He represented Riverside in a contentious dispute that was settled in 1969, providing the city with much of the water supply it relies on today. In 1987, he was appointed special master by the nation’s highest court to resolve a fight between Kansas and Colorado over water in the Arkansas River.

Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Opinion: San Joaquin County deserves a fair chance to develop its American River water right application

Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board (SCWRB) held a public hearing on the pending water-right application of San Joaquin County for a permit to appropriate water from the South Fork American River at the Freeport Regional Water Authority Facility on the Sacramento River. The hearing spawned a lot of misinformed conjecture, especially among Sacramento County water interests, as to why San Joaquin County should receive priority water rights to the American River superseding other Sacramento-area water providers.

-Written by San Joaquin County Supervisors Chuck Winn and Kathy Miller

Aquafornia news Jefferson Public Radio

Bitter Harvest: Klamath Basin farmers take stock of their losses

Tensions rose close to the boiling point early this summer amid a historic water shutoff in the Klamath Basin. Since then, irrigators in the Klamath Project have spent the growing season trying to make the most of a summer with no surface water from Upper Klamath Lake. Jefferson Public Radio spoke with farmers leading up to the Klamath Water Users Association’s annual harvest tour last month. As the town of Merrill hosts the 84th annual Klamath Basin Potato Festival this weekend, JPR looks at the harvest for the Project’s driest year on record.

Related article: 

Tour Nick Gray Jennifer 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 Jennifer 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

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 Jennifer 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 Jennifer 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 2015

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.

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.

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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.