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
Representatives of the Placer County Water Agency, San Juan
Water District, city of Roseville and Sacramento County Water
Agency, in a joint letter, took exception to being lumped in
with communities that don’t have strong water rights under
California law and largely import their water from other
You might have water rights in California, but that doesn’t
guarantee you’ll have water. It seems the perhaps
government has promised more than it can deliver – a headline
that has been widely circulated this week.
There’s a lot at stake, including your very own nuts, fruit and
vegetables, because most of the water that’s up for grabs in
California goes to farmers. This year, some farmers will get
water, and others will not, simply based on when their land was
first irrigated. Consider, for instance, the case of Cannon
Even Northern California farmers with some of the best water
rights in the state will see their water allocations decreased
by 50 percent this year. Districts along the Feather River got
the news Wednesday from the Department of Water Resources.
In drought-ravaged California, the vast freshwater aquifer
beneath the Coachella Valley is a rare bright spot. … But
there is growing concern by some that local water agencies are
drawing too much out of the aquifer, which supplies water for
more than 260,000 people.
Unless significant rain falls this spring, state regulators are
likely to repeat last year’s unprecedented curtailment of
hundreds of water rights held by farmers and others along the
Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg.
Unusually warm temperatures the past few days have made the
four-year drought worse for crops, so Modesto Irrigation
District leaders said Tuesday they’re inclined to start
farmers’ water season April 12 instead of two weeks later.
Hundreds of property owners across California’s Central Valley
and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are scrambling to prove
they have a right to divert water from the region’s streams,
the result of a state order that comes due in just four days.
A provision in California’s landmark 2014 Water Bond Act,
Proposition 1, could lead California into overspending on water
— and that has sparked concern from the Legislature’s
nonpartisan fiscal adviser.
The Department of Motor Vehicles may be the state agency that
Californians love to hate – undeservedly, for the most part.
However, for sheer cussedness and arrogance, the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power is in a class by itself.
The California Water Resources Control Board heard emotional
testimony for at least 12 hours yesterday from people worried
about how the state should manage its dwindling supply of water
during the drought.
Landowners, water districts, cities and other water suppliers
claiming pre-1914 water rights or riparian water rights in the
Sacramento San Joaquin River Watershed and Delta have until
March 6, 2015, to submit documentation substantiating their
rights to the State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”).
Farmers and other water users across the Central Valley soon
will be required to share more details about their water rights
and how much they are diverting, as state officials sort
through allegations of illegal water use in this time of
Persons claiming senior water rights in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta watershed will be required to provide the State
Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) detailed
information on the water rights they claim and diversions
associated with those rights under a new order issued by the
State Water Board.
On Jan. 23, the State Water Resource Control Board issued a
Notice of Surface Water Shortage and Potential for Curtailment
of Water Right Diversions for the coming year. … While the
new Notice does not specify when such curtailment notices will
be issued to the affected water rights holders, it is expected
that the State Board will follow similar procedures as it did
in curtailing water diversions in 2014.
The State Water Resources Control Board advised water rights
holders today [Jan. 23] that water diversions may be curtailed
in critically dry watersheds again this year if conditions do
not improve over the coming months.
For 24 years, traveling across the stark and dusty moonscape of
what once was a glimmering 110-square-mile lake framed by
snow-covered mountains, Ted Schade was a general in the Owens
Valley water wars with Los Angeles.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors continued its
discussion of the Water Resources section of the General Plan
Update at its Monday meeting, beginning by removing a policy
pertaining to water rights on properties with unpermitted
The groundwater legislation passed last year says repeatedly
that nothing in the law would change existing groundwater
rights. I wondered how that would work since the whole point of
the legislation is to reduce our current over pumping of
Elected and tribal officials applauded a U.S. Department of the
Interior legal opinion released on Friday, which calls for
Humboldt County and downstream water users to receive the
annual 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity Reservoir water promised to
the area under a law and a contract approved nearly 60 years
Groundwater adjudications, notoriously expensive and time
consuming, emerged as an issue during the development and
ultimate passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
of 2014, and the Brown Administration has made it a priority to
consider possible reforms.
The last Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting of 2014
on Tuesday focused on many aspects of the Mad River, with a
local water district presenting outlines to potentially
transport water out of the county and increase flows for native
species, and the board approving an update to its environmental
review of current mining operations along the waterway.
After three years of historically dry and hot weather, the
images of California’s drought have become familiar: empty
fields, brown lawns, dry stream beds. But for every one of
those scenes, there are other parts of the state where water
has been flowing freely and the effects of drought are hard to
Here’s something to be thankful for today: A landmark peace
treaty in one of this region’s most enduring water wars. San
Joaquin County and the East Bay Municipal Utility District are
the primary players behind a deal announced late Tuesday.
He [Lance Vetesy] owns Leland High Sierra Snow Play east
of Pinecrest. … Snow-making ability would all but guarantee
him a full season of business every year. … But in California
water law, nothing is simple.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water today held
an informational hearing that focused on developing ways to
resolve groundwater rights disputes more quickly. … Sen.
Fran Pavley, (D-Aurora Hills), chair of the Senate committee,
opened the hearing by saying that following the passage this
year of the Groundwater Sustainability Management Act,
officials now want to look at the issue of groundwater
Thousands of water users across California can again draw water
directly from streams after state officials Wednesday lifted
restrictions on one of the last major blocks of water rights,
imposed in June due to the drought.
Under an agreement between the city [of Los Angeles] and Owens
Valley air quality regulators, Los Angeles will use a new,
organic method of suppressing airborne dust from the dry bed of
Owens Lake, which L.A. drained to slake its thirst in the last
East San Joaquin Valley growers are suing state water
authorities over drought decisions, claiming east-side
communities and farms got no federal water after the state
illegally denied deliveries to a separate group of landowners
with senior water rights.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
Prescriptive Rights are water use rights gained illicitly that
evolve into a title. Typically this occurs with rights to
chronically overdraftedgroundwater basins gained
through trespass or unauthorized use.
In California, the California Supreme Court developed the
doctrine of prescriptive rights in 1949.
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
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.
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.]
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].
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Priority: the right to precedence over others in obtaining,
buying, or doing something – Webster’s New World College
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.
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.