State Aims To Take or Control Your Water Rights: SB 389, AB 460, AB 1337

Three water rights bills are headed to the floor for votes, as of May 18, 2023. These bills propose to make water right holders prove their claims whenever the Water Board demands, inspect your diversion without your permission if the Water Board says it’s for public health and safety, and make senior (riparian and pre-1914) water right holders curtail their water rights. Your Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association, and other groups are working to reduce these bills, and to encourage legislators to vote against them.

I summarize bill information below, and you should read the bill text yourself. Each bill name below is linked to the bill text at There are a few good newspaper articles; one is at the Modesto Bee.

SB 389 would make you have to prove your water right, regardless of whatever information you or previous holders of the right have submitted to the Water Board. Then the Water Board would decide whether you have a right at all, and what kind of water right you have. The Water Board would demand information including your use of the water including your measurement device, calibration, accuracy, photos, maps, quantities, all diversion data, etc.; the basis of the water right claimed; patent date claimed for the place of use; notice date of the appropriation and the date of actual delivery of water to beneficial use; prior diversions and use, including direct diversions and diversions to storage; and diversions and use of transferred water.

AB 460 would let the Water Board inspect your property with no warrant if they decide that public health and safety are at risk, and if you don’t voluntarily let them inspect. The Water Board could now issue you an interim order to stop diverting or take some other action, whether or not there is a complaint. The bill language is not clear on this, but it looks like the daily fines for violating “a term or condition of a permit, license, certificate, or registration issued by, or an order or regulation” would increase from $500/day to $1,500/day, up to $10,000/day. You could request a hearing within 20 days after being served with the complaint, but the Water Board could make an interim order before the hearing if they think that “immediate compliance is necessary to prevent imminent or irreparable injury to other legal users of water, or to instream beneficial uses.”

AB 1337 would let the Water Board curtail any water right at any time for any reason. This would include pre-1914 and riparian water rights. Also, it would let the Water Board continue its current practice of permanent curtailment, in which the Water Board lets you know each week that it’s okay for you to divert. The Water Board would continue to make you go check your curtailment status online each week.

What Can You Do?

  • Get all of your paperwork together. Whatever you have related to your water right, get it all in one place. Do this now, don’t wait for a call from the Water Board.
  • If you have a pre-1914 water right, you will need to have a copy of the original claim and any other related records from the Recorder at the county. Most have water right books with one or more indices to look up the original claim. Prior to 1910, most of them will be written in cursive, so they can take awhile to read and understand.
  • Make sure you have records of your water use. Ideally, there will be a diary, log book, or other notes recording what was grown each year and an estimate of the quantities. If you know the previous owner, ask for a note on when and how water was used. It is important to have documented water use at least every 5 years; this used to apply only to post-1914 water rights and the Water Board is now looking for this with pre-1914 water rights.
  • Upload digital copies of your most important records with your last Supplemental Statement (for pre-1914 water or riparian right) or Report Of Licensee (for post-1914 water right). Make things easy for the Water Board to find.
  • The Water Board posts your Initial Statement Of Water Diversion And Use on their website, along with the following Supplemental Statements. You may have more important records in your hardcopy water rights folder at the the Water Board. You can either go to Sacramento to review your folder, or request that your folder be scanned by a third party that you make arrangements to pay.