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 High Country News

What happens when an affluent Arizona suburb’s main water supply is cut off?

The Rio Verde Foothills look like any other slice of desert suburbia, a smattering of roughly 2,000 stucco homes in a cactus-studded neighborhood just outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, one of Phoenix’s booming satellite cities. An affluent community with a median home price of $825,000, it offered homebuyers cheap land, good schools and mountain views — but not, as many residents recently discovered, a stable water supply. No municipal water pipes reach the Rio Verde Foothills, so about 25% to 35% of the residents rely on a longstanding arrangement in which private water trucks deliver water supplied by Scottsdale. When the city began threatening to cut off the community’s access to Scottsdale water in 2015, saying it had to conserve for its own residents, many Rio Verde Foothills residents did not believe it would actually happen.

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: 2023 Water Leaders Class examines ways to leverage green infrastructure to help manage California’s water

Twenty-two early to mid-career water professionals from across California have been chosen for the 2023 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Class, the Water Education Foundation’s highly competitive and respected career development program. This Water Leaders cohort includes engineers, lawyers, resource specialists, scientists and others from a range of public and private entities and nongovernmental organizations from throughout the state. The roster for the 2023 class can be found here. The Water Leaders program, led by Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Bowles, deepens knowledge on water, enhances individual leadership skills and prepares participants to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resource issues. Leading experts and top policymakers serve as mentors to class members.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

At the heart of Colorado River crisis, the mighty ‘Law of the River’ looms large

It’s a crisis nearly 100 years in the making: Seven states — all reliant on a single mighty river as a vital source of water — failed to reach an agreement this week on how best to reduce their use of supplies from the rapidly shrinking Colorado River. At the heart of the feud is the “Law of the River,” a body of agreements, court decisions, contracts and decrees that govern the river’s use and date back to 1922, when the Colorado River Compact first divided river flows among the states. But as California argues most strongly for strict adherence to this system of water apportionment, the other states say it makes little sense when the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, continues to decline toward “dead pool” level, which would effectively cut off the Southwest from its water lifeline. The Law of the River, they say, is getting in the way of a solution.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Food and Environment Reporting Network

Report: Ag corporations boom despite California’s historic drought

California is suffering from its worst drought in 1,200 years, but that hasn’t prevented some of the state’s most powerful corporate agricultural interests from flourishing. In a report released Wednesday, Food & Water Watch found that agricultural corporations have used an outdated water rights system to their advantage and expanded their most water-intensive operations, even as some rural communities have run out of water completely. … The report urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to overhaul the system before it’s too late. California is becoming hotter and drier, and while a recent string of atmospheric rivers has bolstered the state’s water supply, residents are still bracing for a third year of drought; over 1 million Californians already lack access to clean water, and that number is expected to increase.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Why is California going it alone in Colorado River talks?

With the recent expiration of a federal deadline, California now finds itself sharply at odds with six other states over how to take less water from the shrinking Colorado River. After rejecting a plan offered by the rest of the region, California has entered a political tug-of-war with high stakes. So why has the state that uses the most Colorado River water decided to go it alone? California appears to be banking on its high-priority senior water rights, while the other states are presenting a united front to show the federal government they support a plan that would have California give up more water. … The parties are at an impasse as the federal government begins to weigh alternatives for rapidly reducing water use and preventing the river’s reservoirs from reaching dangerously low levels.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: California, other states reach impasse over Colorado River

California and other Western states that import water from the parched Colorado River failed to reach an agreement today on how to cut their use despite a deadline from federal officials. Six states presented the federal government with a proposal to slash the lower basin’s use by 2.9 million acre-feet from their historic allotments— including more than 1 million acre-feet from California, or 25% of its entitlements. But California, the largest user of Colorado River water, refused to sign onto the proposal and, instead, hours later issued its own — which mirrors its offer last fall to cut imports by 9%, or 400,000 acre feet.  The impasse is over water delivered to Imperial Valley farmers and cities in six Southern California counties.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Daily Star

Feds may alter Colorado River forecast methods slammed as too rosy

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is considering altering its monthly Colorado River forecasting methods in the face of criticism from experts inside and outside the agency that predictions have been too optimistic. Changing forecast methods could have major ramifications in how the bureau manages the river, water experts say. Larger cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and California could possibly be triggered, for example. The agency will consider starting to base its forecasts on the past 20 years of flows into Lake Powell, compared to the 30 years it uses now, a bureau official told the Arizona Daily Star.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news CBS News

New York investors snapping up Colorado River water rights, betting big on an increasingly scarce resource

With the federal government poised to force Western states to change how they manage the alarming shortfall in Colorado River water, there is one constituency with a growing interest in the river’s fate that’s little known to some: Wall Street investors. Private investment firms are showing a growing interest in an increasingly scarce natural resource in the American West: water in the Colorado River, a joint investigation by CBS News and The Weather Channel has found. For some of the farmers and cities that depend on the river as a lifeline, that interest is concerning. … Bernal’s family came to the Grand Valley nearly 100 years ago, and he has lived there his whole life.  But now, he has a new neighbor: a New York-based investment firm called Water Asset Management, which he says bought a farm in the valley around 2017 that Bernal now rents and helps operate.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Mexico seeks to restore Colorado River’s flow

More than a century ago, the [Colorado] river’s delta spread across 1.9 million acres of wetlands and forests. The conservationist Aldo Leopold, who canoed through the delta in 1922, described it as “a hundred green lagoons” and said he paddled through waters “of a deep emerald hue.” He described it as an oasis that teemed with fish, birds, beavers, deer and jaguars. In the years after his visit, the river was dammed and its waters were sent flowing in canals to farms and cities. For decades, so much water has been diverted that the river seldom meets the sea. Much of the delta has shriveled to stretches of dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its wetlands surviving. Restauremos El Colorado manages one of three habitat restoration areas in the delta, where native trees that were planted six years ago have grown into a forest that drapes the wetland in shade. Last spring, a stream of water was released from a canal and flowed into the wetland, restoring a stretch of river where previously there had been miles of desert sand. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: States miss deadline for agreement on Colorado River water

The seven states that depend on the Colorado River have missed a Jan. 31 federal deadline for reaching a regionwide consensus on how to sharply reduce water use, raising the likelihood of more friction as the West grapples with how to take less supplies from the shrinking river. In a bid to sway the process after contentious negotiations reached an impasse, six of the seven states gave the federal government a last-minute proposal outlining possible water cuts to help prevent reservoirs from falling to dangerously low levels, presenting a unified front while leaving out California, which uses the single largest share of the river. The six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — called their proposal a “consensus-based modeling alternative” that could serve as a framework for negotiating a solution.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

‘A living spirit’: Native people push for changes to protect the Colorado River

When representatives of seven states signed the Colorado River Compact in 1922, the agreement included only a brief mention that nothing in the compact “shall be construed as affecting the obligations of the United States of America to Indian tribes.” It wasn’t until 1924 that Congress extended U.S. citizenship to Native Americans by passing the Indian Citizenship Act. … In the 1963 Supreme Court case Arizona vs. California, which settled a dispute over Colorado River water, the federal government intervened to assert that the Fort Mojave Tribe and four other reservations along the river held federally reserved water rights.

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Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: California water rights, history and groundwater among Water 101 Workshop topics

Don’t miss a once-a-year opportunity at our Water 101 Workshop to get a primer on California’s water history, laws, geography and politics. One of our most popular events, the annual workshop will be hosted at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento on Thursday, Feb. 23. California’s water basics will be covered by some of the state’s leading policy and legal experts, and participants will have an opportunity to engage directly with the guest speakers during Q&A sessions.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Colorado River in crisis – The West faces a water reckoning

Over the last several years, managers of water agencies have reached deals to take less water from the river. But those reductions haven’t been nearly enough to halt the river’s spiral toward potential collapse. As Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, continues to decline toward “dead pool” levels, the need to rein in water demands is growing urgent. Efforts to adapt will require difficult decisions about how to deal with the reductions and limit the damage to communities, the economy and the river’s already degraded ecosystems. Adapting may also drive a fundamental rethinking of how the river is managed and used, redrawing a system that is out of balance. This reckoning with the reality of the river’s limits is about to transform the landscape of the Southwest.

Related articles:

Aquafornia news Press Democrat

Healdsburg council hears proposal for new Alexander Valley Water District

Organizers behind a proposed water district in the Alexander Valley put forward Monday their vision for a new entity that would seek to safeguard legal standing of agricultural landowners in the famed grape-growing region. They made their presentation at the Healdsburg City Council’s regular meeting where they called for the formation of the Alexander Valley Water District. It would give valley property owners, many of them grape growers, a stronger legal foothold to protect their rights to draw on Russian River flows and connected groundwater. … The move comes in response to a host of factors, such as the multi-year drought that has spurred state regulators in recent years to curtail water rights for thousands of water rights holders along the upper Russian River, forcing some to cut back on irrigation with surface water flows or turn to groundwater.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Imperial Valley growers brace to give up Colorado River water

Across the sun-cooked flatlands of the Imperial Valley, water flows with uncanny abundance. The valley, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, is naturally a desert. Yet canals here are filled with water, lush alfalfa grows from sodden soil and rows of vegetables stretch for miles. … But now, as a record-breaking megadrought and endless withdrawals wring the Colorado River dry, Imperial Valley growers will have to cut back on the water they import. The federal government has told seven states to come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to reduce their water supply by 30%, or 4 million acre feet. The Imperial Valley is by far the largest user of water in the Colorado River’s lower basin — consuming more water than all of Arizona and Nevada combined in 2022 — so growers there will have to find ways to sacrifice the most.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news CBS News

California’s drought has led to a groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley

Faced with ongoing drought, farmers in California have sought ways to find a precious natural resource: water. In the San Joaquin Valley, an area in central California known as the breadbasket of the world, people have long bolstered the water supply by pumping from underground basins. But experts say people have been overdrafting groundwater for years. Agriculture is a booming industry in California, employing around 420,000 people across the state and supplying more than 400 different types of crops to consumers around the world. But with limited access to water, and with rain and snow hard to come by, reservoir levels are at record lows. Rivers have even dried up. 

Aquafornia news The Nevada Independent

Nevada outlines framework for Colorado River cuts as states show their cards

At the end of last year, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin committed to once again work together and negotiate a consensus framework for making significant cuts to water use, an attempt to stabilize the nation’s two largest reservoirs and avoid an even deeper shortage crisis. The states recommitted to considering a consensus deal, by Jan. 31, after several deadlines passed in 2022 — with seemingly irreconcilable differences over how to make painful cuts in a watershed relied upon by 40 million people who use the river for drinking water and agriculture. …… Of note was the comment letter from Nevada, which outlined a possible framework to achieve consensus. It was the only state-led letter that suggested a comprehensive framework. In fact, two other letters specifically refer to the Nevada plan as a starting point for the state discussions….

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Friday Top of the Scroll: In extraordinary move, California mulls crackdown on Los Angeles’ water draws at Mono Lake

Even as a storms shower California with rain and snow, state water regulators announced this week that they’re revisiting their effort to protect Mono Lake from the ravages of drought, agreeing to review how much water the city of Los Angeles is taking from the basin and whether it’s too much. The announcement, which has already begun drawing backlash from Southern California, comes as the giant salt lake and ecological curiosity on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada has becoming increasingly dry in recent years. The freshly exposed lakebed has been sending toxic dust into skies and creating a land bridge to islands where hungry coyotes threaten to prey on nesting birds.

Aquafornia news Colorado Public Radio

Sports betting, water, education: The issues raised by Colorado’s tribal chairmen in historic speeches at the state Capitol

The chairmen of the Ute Mountain Ute and the Southern Ute tribes spoke in a joint address to the state legislature on Wednesday. It was the first time, under a new state law, that the tribal leaders were invited to address state lawmakers. Over the course of about 30 minutes, the two leaders shared the history of their communities and asked for lawmakers’ help on specific issues. Here are a few. Manuel Heart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute, said the tribe needs help to access the water for which it already holds rights. … Heart said the state should partner with the tribe to work on a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Montezuma County. The tribes also deserve a greater role in water planning among the Colorado River basin states, he said.

Aquafornia news Wyoming Public Media

State legislators look to create a commission for Wyoming’s stake in the Colorado River

The Wyoming State Legislature begins its lawmaking session this week. One bill, called the “Colorado River Authority of Wyoming Act,” would create a board and commissioner to manage Wyoming’s water in the Colorado River Basin. The system drains about 17 percent of the Cowboy State’s land area and is critical for agriculture, energy development and residential use in cities. The entire Colorado River Basin is currently under stress due to drought conditions and human development in the Southwest. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is similar to those previously passed in several other states that depend on the Colorado River.

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Registration now open for Water 101 workshop & Lower Colorado River Tour

Registration for the Foundation’s early 2023 programming is now open, so don’t miss once-a-year opportunities for our Water 101 Workshop Feb. 23 + Optional Watershed Tour Feb. 24 and our Lower Colorado River Tour March 8-10 that weaves along the iconic Southwestern river. Take advantage of our popular Water 101 Workshop to gain a deeper understanding of the history, hydrology, legal and political facets behind management of California’s most precious natural resource.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Drought and the Colorado River: Localizing water in Los Angeles

In October 2022, water agencies in Southern California with Colorado River water rights announced plans to reduce water diversions. The agencies offered voluntary conservation of 400,000 acre-feet per year through 2026. This annual total is nearly 10% of the state’s total annual usage rights for the Colorado River. The cutbacks help prepare for long-term implications of climate change for the river’s management, which are starting to be acknowledged. In urban Southern California, an important aspect of this need is reducing imported water reliance through investments in local water resources. … What would happen if Southern California lost access to Colorado River water for an extended period?

Aquafornia news Bloomberg Law

EPA’s federal waters update seen vulnerable at top court

A test for federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction over waterways and wetlands that is central to an EPA rule announced last week will make the rule especially vulnerable to an upcoming US Supreme Court ruling, water lawyers say. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers published their final definition of “waters of the US,” or WOTUS, on Dec. 30—the latest iteration of a Clean Water Act regulation that has shifted in each presidential administration since 2008. The 2023 rule, which will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, is based on a rule that was in effect before 2015. It governs which surface waters are protected from pollution by the federal government by determining if they are “relatively permanent” or have a “significant nexus” with larger navigable waterways.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Registration opens next week for Water 101, Lower Colorado River Tour

Registration for the Foundation’s early 2023 programming is right around the corner. Don’t miss the once-a-year opportunities for our Water 101 Workshop in February and our Lower Colorado River Tour in March. Mark your calendars now for the week of Jan. 9 when registration will open for both events. … One of our most popular annual events, our Water 101 Workshop + optional 1-day tour returns Feb. 23 & 24 to detail the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics of the moment…. Our annual Lower Colorado River Tour returns March 8-10 when we take you from Hoover Dam to the Mexican border and through the Imperial and Coachella valleys to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the “Lifeline of the Southwest.”

Aquafornia news Inside Climate News

California had a watershed climate year, but time is running out

California made historic investments in climate measures this year, as state leaders warned of current and escalating climate risks. … California is experiencing the driest 22 years in more than a millennium, fueled by warmer, drier conditions that have exposed critical weaknesses in the way the state stores and manages water. … Meanwhile, close to 1,500 wells ran dry this year. And though California became the first state in the nation to recognize the “human right” to water a decade ago, roughly 1 million people, mostly in isolated rural communities, lack access to reliable supplies of safe drinking water. Legislators passed a bill in September to help low-income Californians pay their water bill, but [Gov.] Newsom vetoed it, citing a lack of sustainable, ongoing funding.

As Colorado River Flows Drop and Tensions Rise, Water Interests Struggle to Find Solutions That All Can Accept
Chorus of experts warn climate change has rendered old assumptions outdated about what the Colorado River can provide, leaving painful water cuts as the only way forward

Photo shows Hoover Dam’s intake towers protruding from the surface of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, where water levels have dropped to record lows amid a 22-year drought. When the Colorado River Compact was signed 100 years ago, the negotiators for seven Western states bet that the river they were dividing would have ample water to meet everyone’s needs – even those not seated around the table.

A century later, it’s clear the water they bet on is not there. More than two decades of drought, lake evaporation and overuse of water have nearly drained the river’s two anchor reservoirs, Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas. Climate change is rendering the basin drier, shrinking spring runoff that’s vital for river flows, farms, tribes and cities across the basin – and essential for refilling reservoirs.

The states that endorsed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 – and the tribes and nation of Mexico that were excluded from the table – are now straining to find, and perhaps more importantly accept, solutions on a river that may offer just half of the water that the Compact assumed would be available. And not only are solutions not coming easily, the relationships essential for compromise are getting more frayed.

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

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

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

Northern California Tour 2022
Field Trip - October 12-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2023
Field Trip - March 8-10

SOLD OUT!Click here to join the waitlist.

Explore the lower Colorado River firsthand 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 some 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 is the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139

Central Valley Tour 2022
Field Trip - April 20-22

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

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

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

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

Tour Nick Gray

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

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

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

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

Northern California Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - October 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Colorado River Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - May 20

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

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

Foundation Event

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

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

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

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

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139

Central Coast Tour 2019
Field Trip - November 6-7

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

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern California Tour 2019
Field Trip - October 2-4

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

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

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

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

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

 Optional Groundwater Tour

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

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

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

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

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

Tour

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

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

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

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

Northern California Tour 2018

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

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

Tour

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2018

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

Fishery worker capturing a fish in the San Joaquin River.

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

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.