…continued from yesterday’s Part 1…. To recap, in 2005, San Bernardinoans Arnold and Eileen Williamson bought property near South Cow Creek up in Northern California to retire on and build a new house. They were set on drilling a new well and uncertainties in how much they could pump got them looking into their surface water right – do they have one for sure, and how much water is it? They ended up taking their questions to an engineer who could answer their questions. 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 $350. They’re pretty sure they would have paid a lot more than that to see an attorney. 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 Jeff Swanson if it comes to that – he’s an expert water rights laywer in Redding. 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.
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 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?” 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.