Waste Water, or Get Cash For Excess?

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.Photo_0057

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.

Photo_0695There 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.  20200316_134127

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.

wiki_800px-Well_spudder_8606Lately, 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.


Flow/Volume Data and Data-Heads


You have to measure your surface water diversion, or elevation changes and outflows from your reservoir.  Data processing, checking, correction, and summarizing requires a Data-Head who has experience dealing with this kind of data.

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://allwaterrights.com/2021/04/01/flow-volume-data-and-data-heads/

Flow/Volume Data and Data-Heads

SB 88 requires diverters to measure diverted water flow and/or volume, then report the measurements.  For small to medium-sized diversions and reservoirs, there is a often transducer measuring and recording pressure.  The pressure data has to be converted to depth and flow, or depth and volume.  Data may be hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly.  Whatever the frequency, the Water Board wants data files uploaded with annual Reports and Supplemental Statements.

IMG_0740Where’s the manual for how to do this, for any of several data loggers, and for  meters, weirs, flumes, and orifices, and flumes?  It exists in pieces and parts.  Each data logger manufacturer has a manual for each product.  Sometimes products are similar, and sometimes very different, as are the manuals.  The long-existing measuring devices, weirs, flumes, and orifices, are described and general measurement instructions listed in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Water Measurement Manual.

When it comes right down to it, a person has to be a “data-head” to enjoy collecting the data, and going through all of it to find bad results, missing data, and odd trends.  Then stage and flow have to be calculated and checked against periodic readings taken during visits to the reservoir or stream.  Data have to be listed in a format to upload with the Report or Supplemental Statement to the Water Board, and summed monthly to fill out the online form.

If you enjoy educating yourself and taking on new tasks, then you can be a data-head.  If not, then you’ll need to have an employee do it, or more likely hire an expert.Data Head

Who are the experts?  There are engineering firms, manufacturers, vendors and others who can download data for you.  It still comes down to the person helping you That person who does the work has to have done data reduction, calculations, checking, and quality control in the past.

Make sure you get help from someone who knows data inside and out!  If the Water Board has any questions, your data-head can explain and defend every bit of it for you.  He or she will already know the answers to any questions that come up.