There you go. Based on the change of stem height, you can calculate how much the headgate is open. Convert that to a percentage. For example. A 2.0′ diameter headgate open 0.5′ is 25% open. Then use the table’s 50% row to where it intersects the 2.00 foot diameter column to get an area of 1.913 square feet.
Three water rights bills are headed to the floor for votes, as of May 18, 2023. These bills propose to make water right holders prove their claims whenever the Water Board demands, inspect your diversion without your permission if the Water Board says it’s for public health and safety, and make senior (riparian and pre-1914) water right holders curtail their water rights. Your Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association, and other groups are working to reduce these bills, and to encourage legislators to vote against them.
I summarize bill information below, and you should read the bill text yourself. Each bill name below is linked to the bill text at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/. There are a few good newspaper articles; one is at the Modesto Bee.
SB 389 would make you have to prove your water right, regardless of whatever information you or previous holders of the right have submitted to the Water Board. Then the Water Board would decide whether you have a right at all, and what kind of water right you have. The Water Board would demand information including your use of the water including your measurement device, calibration, accuracy, photos, maps, quantities, all diversion data, etc.; the basis of the water right claimed; patent date claimed for the place of use; notice date of the appropriation and the date of actual delivery of water to beneficial use; prior diversions and use, including direct diversions and diversions to storage; and diversions and use of transferred water.
AB 460 would let the Water Board inspect your property with no warrant if they decide that public health and safety are at risk, and if you don’t voluntarily let them inspect. The Water Board could now issue you an interim order to stop diverting or take some other action, whether or not there is a complaint. The bill language is not clear on this, but it looks like the daily fines for violating “a term or condition of a permit, license, certificate, or registration issued by, or an order or regulation” would increase from $500/day to $1,500/day, up to $10,000/day. You could request a hearing within 20 days after being served with the complaint, but the Water Board could make an interim order before the hearing if they think that “immediate compliance is necessary to prevent imminent or irreparable injury to other legal users of water, or to instream beneficial uses.”
AB 1337 would let the Water Board curtail any water right at any time for any reason. This would include pre-1914 and riparian water rights. Also, it would let the Water Board continue its current practice of permanent curtailment, in which the Water Board lets you know each week that it’s okay for you to divert. The Water Board would continue to make you go check your curtailment status online each week.
What Can You Do?
- Get all of your paperwork together. Whatever you have related to your water right, get it all in one place. Do this now, don’t wait for a call from the Water Board.
- If you have a pre-1914 water right, you will need to have a copy of the original claim and any other related records from the Recorder at the county. Most have water right books with one or more indices to look up the original claim. Prior to 1910, most of them will be written in cursive, so they can take awhile to read and understand.
- Make sure you have records of your water use. Ideally, there will be a diary, log book, or other notes recording what was grown each year and an estimate of the quantities. If you know the previous owner, ask for a note on when and how water was used. It is important to have documented water use at least every 5 years; this used to apply only to post-1914 water rights and the Water Board is now looking for this with pre-1914 water rights.
- Upload digital copies of your most important records with your last Supplemental Statement (for pre-1914 water or riparian right) or Report Of Licensee (for post-1914 water right). Make things easy for the Water Board to find.
- The Water Board posts your Initial Statement Of Water Diversion And Use on their website, along with the following Supplemental Statements. You may have more important records in your hardcopy water rights folder at the the Water Board. You can either go to Sacramento to review your folder, or request that your folder be scanned by a third party that you make arrangements to pay.
What if you have a small diversion, but grass or debris would interfere with a standard weir? A weir has to have unobstructed, free-flowing water over
the crest so measured depths accurately relate to a calculated flow. A weir with debris problems has to be cleared whenever flow is measured, which increases the time requirement.
When weirs have low flows, they trap debris more frequently, and they are less accurate when the depth over the crest drops below 0.2 feet (2.4 inches). Then the only way to measure flow is with a narrow suppressed weir, or with a contracted weir, typically half or less the maximum width. A V-notch weir can be used for measurement of low flows.
Changing the weir boards for different flows requires someone with experience,
who will recognize when the depth over the weir is 0.2 feet or less and then use a contracted weir board. However, people are busy when irrigating, and even busier when flows drop. Weirs are often neglected during the time they need more frequent maintenance visits.
A good flume for passing debris and measuring low flows is the HS flume. These are accurate right down to zero flow. For the maximum flow, they require more
material than a rectangular Winflume, Montana, or Parshall flume. However, they are more accurate than other flumes at very low flows – testing by the University of Minnesota found an average accuracy to be +/- 3.2% for ideal approach conditions. They will pass debris down to zero flow – the flume shown here has an opening of 0.05 feet, or 5/8 inch at the flat bottom, and the opening increases with height.
Why aren’t HS flumes common in California? I suspect that the early adoption of Parshall flumes here established the standard. I have seen a few hundred flumes, but I had never seen an operating HL (wide, high flow), H, or HS flume, prior to my installations.
Why go to the trouble of using an HS flume, if Parshall flumes are readily
available? A Parshall flume may be +/- 10% accurate down to perhaps 5% of its maximum flow. Below that, the accuracy decreases. An HS flume is +/- 10% accurate down to 1% to 2% of its maximum flow. If the flow regime is predominantly low with occasional high flows, it is important to measure those low flows with the best possible accuracy. Some places where low flow measurement is critical include field runoff where pollution is proportional to flow, small water rights, and dam leakage.
HS flumes are easier to construct than a Parshall, too. The HS flume bottom is flat, and it has 3 vertical planes. The photos of the Parshall flume here show
that it has 3 horizontal planes, and 5 vertical planes. An HS flume takes less time to build, and can be put together fairly quickly in any farm or ranch shop. Parshalls are complex enough that they are purchased, including design and shipping costs.
I worked 30 years as a bureaucrat, and for the last six years I have owned my own business. That gave me first-hand immersion in working with members of the public, especially water right holders who divert water from various streams in Northern California. When it comes to property rights, owners are intensely interested in getting problems solved, fast and hopefully permanently. As a property owner I will get the help of whoever I can and whoever it takes to solve my problem. On the flip side, when I worked for state government, I sure know what worked to get me to work on someone’s problem!
Whenever you divert water, you deal with people. Your neighbors are very interested in what you divert. They want you to use only your water right and hopefully less…and they want every possible law applied against whoever takes more than their legal share.
Laws are made by people. I’m not talking about God’s Laws which are not in your or my control. The man-made documents and organizations that establish, make, change, and enforce water laws and rules include:
- the California Constitution
- the Legislature
- the Governor
- Courts at various levels
- everyone’s favorite: federal, state, and local agencies
Agencies, otherwise known as bureaucracies, all have one thing in common. To emphasize a very important point: they are all run and staffed by people. Some folks are easy to deal with, others aren’t. Some are truly caring human beings, and others hide behind the policies of their employer.
What exactly is a bureaucracy? Here is a very good explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy
By the way, corporations are the same as bureaucracies in a lot of ways. Since we are talking about the diversion of surface water, that means bureaucracies. And bureaucrats.
There are some money-saving, hassle-saving methods to dealing with bureaucrats. These are time-tested and have worked for me and many others. When other people acted this way with me, when I was a bureaucrat, to get me to do something even when I was too busy, it worked! Hopefully these practices and techniques will aid you in dealing with an agency or a particularly difficult bureaucrat.
- Do some research. “Google It”, as the saying goes, and learn about the agency you are dealing with. (Actually, I am using Bing and DuckDuckGo as much as Google these days, to get accurate instead of popular results.) Search for comments by people who had the same problem as you. How did they handle it, and what was the result? Did someone have a particularly effective way of getting a problem solved? It might be worth an hour of your time to use the Internet to find out everything you can first.
- Document your problem in writing before contacting a bureaucracy, with text, photos, maps, drawings, contacts, everything you can get on paper. Scan it if possible so everything you have can be emailed.
- Assuming you are calling or talking to the person, write everything down. E-ver-y single thing. Date all the entries. Get each person’s name. You might buy a cheap spiral bound notebook at a WalMart or Dollar store – or buy a few, and the ones you don’t use when dealing with bureaucrats you can use for a diary, or shopping lists, or dealing with corporations. Enter it on the computer in front of you, or use Notes on your phone. Let the person know that you are keeping careful notes. If you intend to record audio of a call, ask first!
- Always be polite, and especially so during the first few contacts about a problem. Do not threaten, curse, yell, or any of those things that would be classified as “impolite”. If the person you are talking to gets unpleasant, just keep a record of it for later, and maintain your calm demeanor.
- Explain your problem or need in as few, relevant words as possible. Boil your problem into one or two specific things that you need done. That way a helpful person can get you the help you need quickly, without strain on your vocal cords or his or her ear.
- Don’t share your life story, complaints about your neighbor’s dog, the hassle you had getting your car repaired, or go into what a rotten, horrible person your neighbor is. That is wasted time. Unless what you say bears directly on the problem, it takes away working time from the person listening on the other end of the phone line, or reading your email, or sitting across the table from you. There may not be enough time left to solve your problem!
- Give thanks and credit to the people who help you. Call their boss, or write the boss a note about the great work they did in helping you. Let everyone else you talk to about your problem know about those helpful people.
- If a bureaucrat says “It’s not my job”, politely explain the person’s statutory/legal/moral or other obligation to help you, and the terrible consequences to you if the person does not carry out his or her agency’s mission. Give a reasonable estimate of the economic harm or cost involved.
- On the other hand, if the answer you get is “I have no idea how”, don’t get frustrated, get more contacts from the person. You’ll be following a trail, sometimes clear, sometimes through thick brush.
- If you are talking to the right person and cannot get the help you need, or an exemption from a rule, or whatever help you are looking for, ask to talk to the bureaucrat’s boss. Don’t insult the employee to the boss, just explain to the boss that he or she has the great power needed to help you.
- If the boss cannot help, ask to talk to his or her boss. See the pattern here? Be courageous and go up the line as high as you need to go.
- Take a few minutes and search online for the names and contact information of the people on the Board, or the Director, or the Chief, of the bureaucracy you are dealing with. It can help to let a bureaucrat know that you know who these people are, and while you really don’t want to have to go that far, you will contact them if necessary.
- If you are being harassed or threatened by an agency and you are pretty sure they are going above and beyond their authority or normal practice, there are ways to get them to back off or slow down and listen. Sometimes mentioning that they may be in violation of RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, can give them pause. Ask them for all communications in writing – that can cut up to half of bureaucratic actions off right at the knees. Ask bureaucrats to include references to all laws, rules, regulations, codes, court cases, etc., that they are relying on.
- Find the agencies, boards, or people to whom you can file a complaint, if you have exhausted all normal ways of getting the help you need and you haven’t been helped. You may even have to enlist the help of staff at your state legislator’s office, or your congressperson.
- Although it is expensive, you may have to hire an attorney.
That’s a long list, but if you are dealing with the State Water Resources Control Board, a lot of those folks are reasonable people. The main problem at the Board is that these folks have five times the work to do than they can get done. You’ll probably have to call several times to get someone’s attention. See Rules 1 and 2 above!
Do something wrong, rather than nothing at all. Have you ever heard that before? I have heard it from Army veterans, a boss, even an elder of a church. George Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” A non-military way to say that is, “A poor plan now is better than no plan at all.”
What it means to you and me is, if action is necessary, do something, maybe ANYthing, rather than freezing in place or ignoring a problem. This is obvious when you see a tornado 5 miles away, for example; either drive away from it if you are in a car, or take shelter if you are on foot. If you have a plumbing leak in the house and no parts to replace broken pipe, then put a bucket under it, or turn off the valve, and call a plumber. All of us have seen a TV show (or maybe had it happen to us) where the bad guy pointed a rifle and said, “Don’t move”. What do we all say to the TV? “Don’t just stand there, run!”. Doing nothing is a much worse choice, if the result for freezing in place is death or injury.
What about water rights – how does doing something wrong help? Everyone knows by now that surface water diverters need measurement devices, so put in a weir box and boards and measure your flow before the threats come from the Water Board, your watermaster, your ditch tender, or your neighbor. Even just stick horizontal boards in a ditch and seal the sides with plastic – something to take positive action to reduce future pain.
Remember to file the information for the measurement device with the Water Board, either via your annual report of diversions, or using the Water Right Form and Survey Submittal Portal.
Take a look at the blog posts below. There is enough information and how-to directions, that you should be able to do it well enough to satisfy the Water Board. Check out these posts:
- Weirs – Planning, Building, And Measuring Flows
- Update to “Weirs – Planning, Building, & Measuring Flows”
- Measure Any Flow With Watchman Flumes
- Submerged Orifices From a Turned-Over Weir Board
- McCrometer Mc Mag 3000 Saddle Flow Meter, 4″ to 12″ Pipelines; Sontek IQ For Larger
- How Do You Record Diversions? Water Level Loggers, Value Vs. All Component Costs – Update
- Level , Seal, and Replace for Accurate Flow Measurements
- Accurate, Economical Flume for LARGE Diversions
- Reasoning With Regulators, Benefitting From Bureaucrats
There is a philosophy based in law and a lot of experience, that says don’t put any controls on yourself until the court or government makes
you. Why remodel your house to accommodate the wiring or plumbing, if you aren’t selling the house and everything works okay right now? Who would put a lot of money into an old truck to make it pass smog, if it just might pass a smog check the next time it has to be done? What farmer would change how he irrigates or ranches if everything still operates and the bank will keep making operating loans?
All of the Water Board deadlines have passed to install measurement devices, or file Alternative Compliance Plans. If you haven’t got your device or plan done yet, get a Request For Additional Time done as soon as possible.
Be proactive. Take some inexpensive, temporary action. Educate yourself for free with some time in the Internet. Even a small, less-than-perfect improvement in your measurement device, flow and water use record keeping, can pay back a lot more when you have to deal with potential Water Board fines, a court case, or even just an angry neighbor in the future.
How is a staff gage installed in a reservoir? The typical way is to drive a piece of 2″ galvanized pipe into the ground, deep enough to so it isn’t easy to push over. If cattle will be in the reservoir to get water, then the pipe needs to be really well installed. A gas-powered post pounder can be rented at Rental Guys, Home Depot, or similar places.
Most reservoirs are deeper than six feet, so it’s best to maximize the length of pipe installed. The length of pipe that can be installed by hand is usually about 6 feet. For a 6-foot tall pipe, about 3 feet of pipe needs to be in the ground, so the total pipe length is 9 feet.
Then the staff gage is attached to a 2″ x 8″, using screws or small bolts. Staff gages vary in width from 1″ to 4″; the usual USGS Style C staff gages are 2-1/2″ wide. Once the staff gage is screwed on, the board is U-bolted to the pipe.
That’s it…except for the surveying part. The top of staff gage needs to be at the same level as the spillway crest, so the maximum water surface elevation can be measured. How is the surveying done? An autolevel is close enough for most reservoirs, or two installers can use a very accurate survey level.
If the reservoir is deeper than your staff gage length (6 feet as shown here), and most are, then staged staff gages will be needed. For example, a first gage is installed at the top, going from, say, 6 feet to 12 feet. The second, lower staff gage is installed from 0 feet to 6 feet, and 6 feet is exactly the same elevation on both staff gages. In the photo below, there are 3 staged staff gages to measure 18 feet in elevation: 0 to 6 feet, 6 feet to 12 feet, and 12 feet to 18 feet. The top of the third, lowest staff gage can be seen in the bottom right corner.
More commonly, staff gages like the USGS Style C are purchased in 3.33 foot lengths. This is convenient because staff gages are installed closer together.
What if a pond is full, or mostly full? It is still possible to install a staff gage, but it will be harder. Boats or rafts will be needed, and the pipe with the board already attached has to be put in place and held vertical while being driven. If the total depth is greater than 6 feet, then a longer pipe, board, and staff gage will be needed, and the combined weight will be that much greater. Hint: tie a rope and buoy to the pipe so
when if it slips and sinks, it can be pulled up again.
What about installing a staff gage along the slope of a dam, to avoid having to wrestle a pipe and board for a deep installation? This can be done by attaching a length of rebar or pipe to the dam face using concrete stakes or similar method. The slope distances measured are converted to vertical depths. However, this won’t stand up well to cattle or elk traffic, and it is more liable to be vandalized if the reservoir has easy access.
If you have a pipeline as part of your diversion, then an in-line meter with an integrated data collector can be installed. The data files from these units are
easily readable in Excel, and the files can be sent directly to the Water Board to meet the requirements of SB 88.
What if you don’t have a pipeline? Then your flow needs to be measured in the open ditch with a weir, flume, or orifice. These devices measure the flow but they don’t record the data. To continuously record data, a submersible logging instrument must be used to measure the water pressure at the bottom of the box. These logging instruments are commonly put into stilling wells that are inside or outside the measurement device.
How are water pressure logger measurements converted to diverted flows or reservoir storage? Why does anyone even have to have an electronic pressure logger? Onset Computer, PMC, In-Situ, , and other manufacturers sell data loggers and water level loggers, not pressure loggers, so why is this post talking about measuring pressures at all?
Loggers record pressure, because that is the easiest physical attribute to measure. A data logger in water does not know how deep it is, and it does not
know how much flow is going by, or how much water is being stored in a reservoir. Pressures relate directly to static (standing) water depths, and then equations convert the depths to flows, or to reservoir storage volumes.
How is pressure converted to depth? It’s an easy calculation – water that is one foot deep has a pressure of 0.4335 psi at the bottom. So, if your logger measures 1.60 psi, then the calculation to get depth is 1.60 psi / 0.4335 psi per foot = 3.69 feet of depth.
Note that water level loggers can be of two types. The least expensive are completely submersible, and do not compensate for barometric pressure. For an idea of the readings of barometric pressure in a measurement device, a 2 foot deep logger records a pressure of 0.8670 psi. Atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 14.7 psi, and high in the mountains may be 12.0 psi. Air pressure is much greater than those measured in ditches. Usually two of these loggers are used at once, one in the water, and one out of the water measuring only air pressure. This also eliminates the variability in pressure due to weather changes.
The second type of data logger compensates for barometric pressure at the same time water pressure is being recorded. That way, the water and air pressure data sets do not have to be combined before conversion to depths. These loggers were always more expensive until the Bluetooth Hobo water level logger came along; as of February 2019 I found that it is the least expensive option for a single location.
Now that you can calculate any depth, how do you convert depths to reservoir storage? That requires an Area-Capacity curve, also known as an Elevation-Storage curve. The points can be picked off the curve. For example, in the curve below, a depth of 8.5 feet would correspond to an elevation of 2,802.5 feet, and a reservoir storage volume of 30 acre-feet.
An owner of a reservoir with a capacity over 10 acre-feet must collect monthly storage values. That’s easily done by hand. However, a reservoir with a capacity of 50 AF requires weekly measurement; over 200 AF requires daily measurement; and over 1,000 AF requires hourly measurement. That is really tedious to do by hand.
This is where an Excel spreadsheet can make the task a whole lot easier! The spreadsheets shown below are just for this. The first sheet helps translate a graph into a table of elevations and storage volumes. The second sheet translates collected pressure values into depth and storage values, for as many data points as needed.
For diversion ditches from a stream, how are pressures converted to flows? The logger is in a stilling well, usually a pipe connected to the inside or outside wall of the weir, flume, or orifice. It measures pressure, which is easily converted to depths.
As with reservoirs, Excel spreadsheets make the conversion process a whole lot easier. The sheets below have the rating curve for a suppressed weir, and the second sheet converts pressure to actual water depths over the weir boards. Even for thousands of hourly readings, the hourly flow volumes are quickly calculated and are ready to send to the Water Board:
Back in 2005, Arnold and Eileen Williamson bought property near South Cow Creek in Shasta County. They live in San Bernardino and plan to retire early, and build a new house on their land. The parcel is part of an old ranch just off Highway 44.
The Williamsons paid $220,000 for the 3.55 acre lot. That seemed high compared to similar parcels in the area, but they were assured the land has adjudicated water rights from South Cow Creek.
Arnold and Eileen brought their travel trailer to live on the land while they are building a new house. Their savings account is in good shape so they are going to build a nice 2,200 square foot, single story ranch house with a garage and a shop. They talked to a well driller 10 years ago and he assured them it would be easy to put in a well, for a cost of around $18,000.
When Arnold and Eileen went to get a permit to drill a well, they ran into unexpected problems. Parcels on either side have their septic systems close to the common property lines, so their possible well locations are few. Maybe a bigger issue is the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014. Will their pumping rate be limited, and will their well-drilling permit application get held up?
Now the Williamsons are checking into their surface water right. Is it enough for some pasture for horses and a few cows, in addition to the house and garden? The Turings who live on the east side say there are no water rights. The Poulans, to the west, say they have lived here for 6 years and they have never had water – they think the water right was bought off the place, or lost because of non-use. Now the Williamsons are upset and headed toward just plain mad. The real estate agent said they had rights, and didn’t the title companies insure it?? After a few frantic calls, they found out that title companies don’t insure water rights. But, their realtor gave them the number of some folks over on the north side of the highway, and they have a “decree map”. Arnold and Eileen head over to the Winters’ place to look over the maps. Brad and Jenny Winters even have a web address where the decree and maps can be downloaded: https://allwaterrights.com/some-decrees-maps/ The Water Board’s web page has the decree, but no maps: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/board_decisions/adopted_orders/judgments/docs/cowcreek_jd.pdf.
It turns out that the Cow Creek adjudication does not have maps, but an engineering report done a few years before the decree was issued does have the maps. Brad and Jenny have that report, too, so they have Sheets 1 through 5 showing the “Diversions And Irrigated Lands” on Cow Creek. Besides that, they have the link to where they can get the South Cow Creek decree, and a link to a blog that has the maps not on the Water Board’s web site: https://allwaterrights.com/some-decrees-maps/ Sheet 5 covers the area including the Winters and Williamson places. Sheet 5 has a lot of “irrigated lands” according to the legend – the green areas.
By looking at the maps, and their Assessor Parcel Map they have in their escrow package, it sure looks like their property is completely within the green area. Great! Now, how do they figure out if they actually have a water right?
Arnold and Eileen wonder, can they figure this out themselves? Brad and Jenny tell them, they sure can, and there is a document online that explains how to do it: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8G8oUBnppMTdU1lbUotUDR4MlU/view. They take a look at it and see that, yes, the document fully explains the process, but it requires having either AutoCAD or GIS software. Also, it will take deep familiarity with the decree – and it is starting to look like a 3-day job just to understand it enough for their parcel! Arnold and Eileen don’t have the software or experience, so they decide it’s not worth their time to learn this…and they are not sure if they can do it right.
After asking around, Arnold and Eileen figure out they will need to see an attorney. They call around and find out there are a couple of engineering companies that can see them faster, and they might cost less. They picked Rights To Water Engineering, Inc., to help figure out their water rights. Within a couple of weeks, they have a nice report in their hands and answers to their questions. So what did they find out? The map below is one of several from the report they got from the engineer, showing their property boundary on the 1965 decree map of irrigated lands:
The report cost $2,500. The engineer warns them that if it gets contentious and they can’t work out access to the water with their neighbors, they may end up having to get legal help. He recommends a couple of local water rights attorneys if it comes to that – there are some good lawyers who specialize in in water rights. For now, though, they have documentation they can discuss with their neighbors to work on getting their water right to their property.
Their property is on land that back in 1968 belonged to Howard and Gladys Leggett. It has an adjudicated second priority water right for irrigation equal to 0.063 cubic feet per second, or 28.5 gallons per minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from March through October. This 2nd priority right is less than the second and third priorities on the upper creek and tributaries, but it is the highest irrigation priority on the lower creek. Back when the property was flooded, that was usually enough to flood irrigate their entire lot to grow pasture or hay. That’s great news!
As natural flows drop during the summer that amount is reduced and everyone with a lower creek second priority has to reduce their diversion by the same percentage. In normal and wet years they could keep their pasture, hay, or whatever else they plant, irrigated for most or all of the irrigation season. And whether or not they use the water, the right does stay with the land and protect their property value; there is no provision for the expiration of water rights in the decree (the same as for nearly all surface water rights decrees).
What else was in their report? There was a cover letter, and next some excerpts from the decree. Schedule 1 lists the places of use for all the original owners. The Leggetts’ description takes up most of page 60; the Williamson’s property is on the 69.8 acres listed in the second paragraph for the Leggett land:
Schedule 2 lists all the points of diversion, whether gravity diversions or pumps. The Leggett property actually could get water from two diversions, a pump from the creek, and a proposed second, movable diversion on the creek. That’s convenient – per the decree they could already divert their water from someone else’s existing diversion, or pump their water from Diversion 95, or they could get it from anywhere they can get agreement from the landowner!
Schedule 6 lists the water rights for Lower Cow Creek – other schedules have rights for the upper creek and tributaries. This is interesting: there are four priorities of rights and this part of the Leggetts’ property has
a 1st and a 2nd priority right. What does that mean exactly? The decree explains that 1st priority rights are domestic – houses and gardens. It’s a very small right and it is not clear whether or how it should be divided up among the all the subdivided parcels that used to be the Leggett ranch. The engineer noted it in the cover letter.
How was the water right calculated for the Williamsons? Using a geographic information system, or GIS, the engineer used his training and years of experience to precisely overlay the Assessor Parcel Map on the decree map. Then he measured the acreage for both, and prorated the water right by area. The following screenshots of the Excel spreadsheet shows these calculations.
Time to fess up: this was a water right subdivision of a fictitious, made-up parcel of land, and the Williamsons don’t actually own it. However, this story is one that happens every day, when a landowner asks “How much is my water right, really? Can I divert for hay, stock, pasture, wildlife habitat, crops not mentioned in the decree, an orchard, ……… ?” Having information before arguing with neighbors, seeing attorneys, sending legal letters, and going to court, can help smart people who generally have good relationships work out happy and agreeable solutions. The Williamsons were smart and talked politely with their neighbors, the Turings and Poulens and Winters’s. Now they have a good basis to live peacefully in their neighborhood for many years, and Arnold can borrow Charlie’s lawnmower until he gets his own.
Market part of your water, as a lease or sale, or divert it all and don’t risk losing your water right? That’s the question for thousands of Sacramento Basin smaller districts and individual diverters of even large water rights. The market for water can bring the water right holder $25 – $1,000 per acre-foot, depending on whether the buyer is a nearby neighbor or a San Joaquin Valley water district in a dry year.
When I was a DWR bureaucrat, my supervisor was experienced and wise. When he would talk to people at public meetings, or to neighbors who knew he was in the water world, sooner or later the subject of “sending all our water to Southern California” came up. His reply was, “You’re right, Feather River water is going to L.A., Sacramento River water is going to the San Joaquin Valley, and the excess of both goes through the Delta out to the Pacific Ocean. And you know what? Gravity does the job, not the government. If you want to keep water in Northern California, there have to be more dams.” Some folks understood and changed their minds, others kept on complaining.
There are more reservoirs in the Sacramento Basin. They aren’t made of concrete, they don’t do flood control, and they’re not run by the state or federal governments. These reservoirs are the water evaporated, infiltrated, leaked, returned unused to the stream, or wasted at the diversions of many individuals, and some water and irrigation districts. Some of the excess water makes it back to streams, and some of it goes to the next diverter down the stream, but much is lost in the short term and unavailable for use by humans or the environment.
Yes, many surface water flood systems were designed this way, so runoff from one irrigator goes into the canal to the next. However, more flooded pastures are being leveled or converted to pivots to grow hay. Many other pastures are becoming orchards, with tight controls on incoming e coli from cattle or unwanted pesticides or herbicides. There is a huge opportunity to increase efficiency (pipe, sprinklers, etc), maintain better water quality.
How can anyone get a yield, or excess water out of those reservoirs? Lining ditches, converting to sprinkler instead of flood irrigation, changing the land use to a crop that has both higher value to the owner, and lower water use.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing that this excess water exists. In fact, it has the potential to do a lot of good, both for the upstream district, and for fisheries, and for other environmental needs, and for water users downstream or south of the Delta who don’t have enough water.
What is the good for the district or individual who is selling or leasing the water? Well, there is water not being directly used by stock, or being applied to crops, or directly needed for groundwater recharge. If some of that water can be saved, it can remain in the stream and used for all the other needs. Agricultural, urban, and environmental water users will pay for the saved water. That water can also bring in a lot of cash, that can be used for further farm or ranch efficiency, general improvements, or cash to keep in the bank.
Why don’t more irrigators with excess water market it? The number one reason is fear that somehow, California or the Feds will eventually take away the water right. That is a concern, but there are a bunch of people selling water right now who will tell you that their water right is still rock solid. The second reason is that we have always irrigated this way, so why should we change? Both the fear of loss and the unwillingness to change can be overcome with just a little bit of self-education. Plenty of folks have overcome their lack of knowledge to put together some valuable water deals.
Lately, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA, is throwing in a lot of uncertainty. It’s true that radically changing diversion practices might change groundwater recharge, so that pumped water is not fully replenished. So, put together a small deal and see how that goes. Call it a trial for one or a few years. That will provide data on what the groundwater changes were due to the water deal.
What about those folks in the San Joaquin Valley who really need the water, badly? There is an element of taking care of our neighbor, and it ought to be part of the consideration. Who is our neighbor? Anyone that we can or do benefit.
There is a lot of opportunity out there, folks.