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 Chico Enterprise-Record

Thursday’s Top of the Scroll: Sacramento Valley water transfer idea leaves locals fuming

There’s a plan for water transfers could move up to 511,000 acre-feet of water each year for the next 10 years from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. … The Bureau [of Reclamation] is in the middle of writing the “Long-Term Water Transfers Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.”

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Tribe, agencies lay out arguments in water lawsuit

Two water districts, the federal government, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are laying out their arguments in a lawsuit over water, focusing on the question of whether the tribe has rights to groundwater.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Amid California’s drought, a bruising battle for cheap water

The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and bustling Interstate 5. “Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Jerry Brown takes the long view on water

Battles over water rights, wet years flowing into dry ones, Jerry Brown gubernatorial tenures – in California, some storylines recur.

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

The West is bone dry. Here’s how to help

Drought is rampant these days in many parts of the American West, so consider this a pretty sweet gift: You’ve just been given the rights to some water. … Your job is to turn around and use that resource in the most valuable way possible.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog by UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences

Blog: Modernizing drought water allocations

The State Water Resources Control Board recently solicited public comments on how to improve its drought curtailment of water rights. Here is a summary of insights and recommendations from a group of seven California water experts.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Plans for five new Glenn-Colusa wells face a tough crowd

Five new wells are on the drawing board for Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, the biggest surface water district in the Sacramento Valley. … Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District is considering the five wells as a backup to surface water during dry and critically dry years, presenters explained.

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Water for Coachella Valley farms untouched by drought

One of the most extreme droughts in California’s history has been hitting agriculture hard, forcing cutbacks in water deliveries in parts of the Central Valley and leaving more than 400,000 acres of farmland fallow and dry.

Western Water Excerpt Gary Pitzer 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 (30-minute VHS)

A 30-minute version of the 2005 PBS documentary Water on the Edge. This video is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the New River.

Video

Water on the Edge (60-minute VHS)

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.

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

Delta Sustainability Map
Published 2006

This beautifully illustrated 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing and display in any office or classroom, focuses on the theme of Delta sustainability.

The text, photos and graphics explain issues related to land subsidence, levees and flooding, urbanization and fish and wildlife protection. An inset map illustrates the tidal action that increases the salinity of the Delta’s waterways. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the California Bay-Delta Authority.

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 2013

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 2000 version offers expanded information on groundwater banking and conjunctive use …  Colorado River transfers, CALFED’s Water Transfer Program 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 2013

The Colorado River provides water to more than 35 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 2011

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 history of the project, 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 2010

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 and competing issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, and water distribution.

Aquapedia background

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

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

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

Groundwater Banking

Water banking is a form of conjunctive use in which water is allocated for current use, or stored in surface water reservoirs or in aquifers for later use.

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.

Commands