What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Your Water??

This is a story about Larry Lucifer and Sally Saint, neighbors for 12 years on Rowdy Creek.  Larry is third generation on the same property, which was originally a 320-acre ranch.  His grandparents subdivided it for their 8 children, and some of then kept their 40-acre pieces, while a couple subdivided into ranchettes.  Sally and her family moved onto one of the smaller parcels and built their starter home.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty in this story.  However, most

Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer - Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer – Photo Credit: Pixabay

of Larry’s neighbors know him to have strong opinions that he is happy to share with anyone; using Lucifer as his last name is probably a fair characterization.  He knows what everyone else should be doing with their property, how they should vote, what they should drive, what their kids should do…and what their water right is.  He thinks he has a genetic ability to look at water in the creek or a ditch and tell you exactly what the flow is.  Larry has somehow stayed out of jail for his more famous misadventures, and he is happy to sue anyone he has a disagreement with.

Sally Saint is truly a nice lady who gets along with her neighbors.  Her husband Mark

Mark and Sally Saint Family - Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Mark and Sally Saint Family – Photo Credit: Pixabay

works for the Bureau of Reclamation and she works at a nail salon in town.  Their 2 kids are nice, and involved in various sports and 4H, and they get  good grades.  Sally volunteers at the schools and writes a beauty column in the local paper.  She is fairly well known and everyone likes her.

Mark is working overtime at the Bureau, so Sally is the one who puts in boards and irrigates from the ditch.  Everything went fairly well until 2012, and since then it seems to Sally that there has been a lot less water.  Larry’s whole pasture stays green all the way through August – hers is half dry in July.  Somebody must be stealing water!  The only one upstream on the ditch is…Larry.

lucifer-saint_with_ditch_names
  Lucifer and Saint Parcels (Red Lines), and Diversions

Sally doesn’t like conflict, so she asked around some.  Is there someone her other neighbors call about water problems?  Nope, there is no ditch tender for the diversions from Rowdy Creek, everyone takes care of their own water.  Sally used Bing to search online:  water dwr_watermaster_webproblems, ditches…water rights.  Yup, water rights brought up some likely results.  One of the government offices
is even close by – the Department of Water Resources (DWR) Watermaster Service.  She called and talked with the Senior Engineer in the Surface Water and Watermaster Section and then she took notes on what he said as fast as she could write:

“It’s not a water right from a court decree, so DWR has no jurisdiction.  Do you know the basis of your water rights?  No?  I’ll give you the Water Board’s number before we hang up.

“First, write down everything you know that is a fact, as well as what you think is going on.  Be clear on what you know and what you do not know for sure.

“This is really important:  TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOR FIRST.  This makes good sense – if you can resolve a problem between the two of you, it is the cheapest, easiest, fastest, friendliest way to fix things.  Of course, be polite, ask questions, listen to what he says, don’t accuse.  If this works, you might keep from making an enemy unnecessarily.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Sometimes it works!  If it does not work, at least you tried.

You might find out you are wrong – maybe your neighbor Larry is diverting a lot more than his right because he is legally combining flows from several diversions, all at one diversion.  Maybe he has a larger right than you thought, because he bought his neighbor’s property.  It could be a one-time thing – he had to flush his ditch for maintenance, or he was doing a trial flood-up after leveling land.  He could even be adding well water to the ditch somewhere you can’t see, and since it’s his he takes it out down the ditch.

Make sure you are diverting correctly, Sally!  Even if you are the nicest person

Newly Installed Briggs Weir
 Briggs Weir Box
versaline-vl4511-and-wls-31-water-level-datalogger-specs-edited
PMC Data Logger

in the world, and your neighbor is as bad as you say, you will be upset and embarrassed if your neighbor turns around and finds you doing something wrong!  I don’t know your ditch or property, but I suggest that you get a measurement device installed, and a data logger working, your online reports to the Water Board submitted and current.  Given the size of your property, you probably need to record data every hour.

Intermountain_Env_Nuway_Flume_Brochure_Photo - Edited
Intermtn. Env. Flume

If you have enough fall in your ditch, you could put in a weir box from Briggs Manufacturing in Willows.  If not, then a sheet-metal flume from Intermountain Environmental, or I have a local friend that can make you a flume.  Oh, and I know a guy who can install it and a data logger right and make sure it’s working, inexpensively.  Give me your email and I’ll give you all their contact information.

“It is a really good idea not to ask for help from law enforcement officers (LEOs) or officers of the court.  They are not trained in, nor are they water diversion experts.  It wastes their time and yours to have to respond, and then it is frustrating for everyone when our LEOs cannot help to resolve a situation.  If a water argument goes sideways and turns into a water brawl, then definitely call 9-1-1!

DO contact the folks who have authority or at least have water rights and/or
water flow measurement expertise!  It is always safe to:

Call the Water Board:  (916) 341-5300

“They will either be able to help you directly, or to point you in the right direction.  For example, sometimes people in Community Service Districts, Water Districts, or Watermaster Service Areas call swrcb_div_water_rights_webthe Water Board, and staff there will refer them back to whoever regulates the water diversions there.  You’ll need to work with the district or agency that has authority over regulations if there is one.  Otherwise you’ll waste time and money for little or no effect.

If the Water Board folks are the ones who can solve your problem, then you will need to file a complaint.  Complaints used to be filled out by hand, now they are, of course, filled out online at https://calepacomplaints.secure.force.com/complaints/  Make sure you have a measurement device in first, if you can, so all of the Water Board’s attention will be focused on your neighbor and not you.

cutepdf_web_page“You will have to scan any paper documents you have.  Many home printers have a scanner – if you do not have one, then get help from a family member, or a business supplies store.  Oh, you have one?  Okay,  save documents as Adobe PDF files if possible; they are usually the format that results in the smallest file size.  Cute PDF and other freeware can make a PDF file from your scanner output image files – JPEG, PNG, etc.  Better yet, download the free NAPS2 scanner software on your computer – it can save scans directly to PDF format.  If you are desperate, you can use a digital camera to take a photo and send that…but it distorts the document, and small text may not be readable.naps2_web_page

“Make your complaint effective and easy to work on, by providing complete information:

  • Provide documentation of water rights.  Do you know what the water rights are, because they come from a permit or license, or decree, or other document?  Include them to save the government folks time…and establish that you know what you are talking about.
  • Get Google Earth or other maps, or sketches and drawings of the area.  Write on them the property boundaries, owners’ names, diversion locations, and other pertinent information.
  • Write a clear, concise statement of the problem: “My neighbor has a water right of 1.5 cfs, and I think he is diverting 3.5 cfs.”
  • Provide photographs or video, all you can get.
  • Provide any measurements you have made and recorded.  What were the dates, times, water depths, flows if you know them?
  • What do you want to have happen?  Explain clearly: “I want my neighbor to reduce his diversion from 3.5 cfs to his actual water right of 1.5 cfs, so I can get my full water right.”

“I think that’s about it, and I am 5 minutes late for a budget meeting so let’s call it good for today.  Call me back if you have any questions.  You too, have a great week.”

So, what did Sally do next?  This post is long enough – I’ll tell you the rest of the story soon!

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AllWaterRights - Rights To Water Engineering

Solving Diverters' Headaches To Provide Peace Of Mind And Help Stay Out Of Trouble. Helping California residents understand, define, and protect their water rights since 2005.

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