This post is about individual water rights, not those that are distributed by a water district, irrigation district, water company, or other organization that can sell and assign shares of water. Side note: if your diversion is 100 AF to 1,000 AF per year, now (January-February) is a great time to get your measuring device installed and certified! Diversions of ~0.4 to 4 cfs take smaller devices – many can be installed between storms before the busy spring season. If you live on or farm a parcel that was subdivided from a ranch that had water rights, it will take you and your neighbors some planning and work to do to share the water equitably with your neighbors. This map shows multiple owners on land that used to belong to just one owner, H. Leggett, when the South Cow Creek Decree was issued by the Shasta County Superior Court in 1968.
Originally on the Leggett place, there wasn’t enough water to irrigate the whole ranch at one time. The water was rotated between one part and another. Maybe it took 10 days of turning the water into one field and then another, and after that there may be a to 10 day pause.
Rotation also took place by agreement or adjudication between several diverters. Below is shown the northwest part of Sheet 5 of the South Cow Creek Decree. The green areas show the decreed irrigated acreage mostly in the correct spots. You can see that the H. Leggett was neighbors with A. Otten to the north, E. Frisbie and X. Shuffelberger to the northeast, H. Fraley to the southwest…and these diverters may have rotated and combined diversions to get a slug of water to push over a whole field quickly. One may have had water for 5 days for a larger farm, another for 2 days for a smaller farm, and so on. The rotation would have repeated through the irrigation season, with the time periods usually staying the same. That way, as natural flows decreased through the irrigation season, everyone shared the loss because they each had the same percentage for the individual irrigations.
There is another kind of rotation that happens as land is subdivided over time. An original 800-acre ranch may be split into 10 parcels today. If the ranch originally had 4 main ditches, many of the parcels today don’t touch a ditch. What’s the solution?
When a bunch of smaller, feeder ditches are put in, then most of the water will soak into the ground before it gets to the parcels it is supposed to irrigate. If instead, landowners agree to get water for, say, 40 parcels
at a time, then a higher volume of water may be pushed across all of the properties before it is sent to the next group of landowners.
Of course, investment in infrastructure, such as lining or piping ditches, might
make water available to most of the people for most of the time. Rotation can be alleviated by more and better plumbing. The monetary cost is higher, sometimes much higher, but getting more water overall can be worth a lot. Not having to be home on all rotation days is worth something, too.
What happens when a subdivision is built on what used to be a farm or ranch? In some cases, new owners have invested in pipelines to keep rotating the water between the smaller parcels, or supply all parcels at once if the pipelines increase efficiency enough. In other places, some new owners use water, others don’t, which is fine as long as a new owner doesn’t complain loudly. The map above is from the revised Hat Creek Decree map, showing one original ranch that subdivided into 60 + parcels. Some parcels get surface water from the ditch, other, newer owners have put in a few pumps and pipelines to ensure decreed water rights are available to smaller parcels today.
In still other locations, none of the new homeowners wanted to use the water, either because there was a built-in municipal supply of treated, safe water, or
because one or more wells were drilled. No water is diverted, so none is rotated. The existence of surface water rights probably was not advertised when the parcels were purchased, and once the new owners were built homes, it became too expensive to arrange pipelines across several neighbors’ properties to get a share of the surface water right.
In summary, rotation has been part of most farms and ranches since the beginning. Physical rotation of a water right on subdivided parcels takes forethought and planning. It is least expensive when new ditches or pipelines are installed before the new parcels are built out in houses and businesses.