This is the “Version 2” conclusion of the story What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Water?
Sally Saint was convinced that her neighbor, Larry Lucifer, has been stealing water. She didn’t want to make an enemy of Larry but that may be impossible since Larry gets angry easily, has lots of opinions, and tells everyone else what they should do. Sally called the California Department of Water Resources Watermaster Supervisor, and he gave her detailed advice. So, what did Sally do with that advice?
Sally called the Water Board in Sacramento and found that Larry and she have a riparian water right. Larry has been filing Statements of Use for the ditch, including for the Saint’s and others’ parcels that get water from the ditch. As far as the Board knows, Larry is the sole owner of the water right.
In Version 1 of this saga, Sally went over to talk to Larry, said that she thinks the Saints are not getting their right, and Larry threatened to take legal action and then kicked her off the property. Mark and Sally ended up placing their own pump in the creek and avoiding Larry.
Today, in Version 2, Sally went over on Saturday and said hello to Larry. She even brought fresh-baked cookies. He was grumpy but willing to talk about irrigation from the Greig Ditch. After a few easy questions, Sally asked, “Larry, can you help me understand the water rights on Rowdy Creek?” Smart – this is an open question and gives Larry a chance to show how smart he is.
“Well, my grandparents and parents always said these are riparian rights. I don’t know if there is an amount. I know my property has riparian rights but you don’t anymore.”
Sally nodded. “Okay, thanks for explaining that. Your family owned all this once and if anyone still understands it’s you. I appreciate you sending water through the ditch to us so we can irrigate, even if we don’t have a right.”
Larry nodded and said, “Well, you guys might still have a water right. Or you could pay me for more. I’ll sell it to you for $1,000 per acre-foot. That’s a pretty good price. I do all the work at the diversion, and ditch work, and you guys don’t pay anything. You haven’t even offered to help.”
Sally looked surprised and said, “You know, you’re right, Mark and I never even thought about that. You do the work every year, and we really appreciate it. We would like to help so you don’t have the whole load. Can we rent a backhoe every other year and clean out the ditch? I’ll help you at the dam – I know you build it up every year and put plastic in.”
Larry thought about it. “Well, yeah, you should be doing the work, too. So, what’s the problem? Why did you come over here, anyway?”
“We really want to understand our water rights. If there was a way we could keep the pasture green a little longer, say, through August, that would really help.”
“Well Sally, I’m not even sure you have a water right. But if you do half the maintenance, or pay something for me to do it, then as long as I get my water I don’t care what goes down the ditch to you guys. You can go raise up the dam a little if you want more, too, just let me know if you are coming on my property.”
Sally thanked Larry again for helping her to understand. She left while she still had a “win”, since she had a solution to get her water. Since the Watermaster had spent time giving advice, she called back to let him know how it turned out.
The Watermaster explained: “Hey, that’s great, Sally! Well done, you tamed the tiger a little bit and it sounds like you will get your water next year. You have a
riparian right, correct? Remember that riparian rights are undefined – per the California Constitution, it’s whatever you can apply reasonably and beneficially, without wasting it. As the flow drops in the stream you have to share the loss with other riparian diverters. As a rough idea, you might have the full right through June 15 or 30, and by the end of August, maybe half, and the flow pops back up again at the end of October. If nobody is complaining to you or Larry, you could raise or seal up your dam a little more in July to keep ditch flows a little higher.
The end of Version 2 of this story is that Sally talked with Mark, and he was pretty happy that they had an agreement with Larry. They agreed that they should tread lightly and not talk with neighbors and others about it; if it got back to Larry he might get mad about the gossip and really mess with their flows!
What have you experienced – a Version 1, Version 2, or something else? Please let us know in a comment!