How to Divide Up a Decreed Water Right

Back in 2005, Arnold and Eileen Williamson bought property near South Cow Creek in Shasta County.  They live in San Bernardino and plan to retire early, and build a new house on their land.  The parcel is part of an old ranch just off Highway 44.

The Williamsons paid $220,000 for the 3.55 acre lot.  That seemed high compared to similar parcels in the area, but they were assured the land has adjudicated water rights from South Cow Creek.

Arnold and Eileen brought their travel trailer to live on the land while they are building a new house.  Their savings account is in good shape so they are going to build a nice 2,200 square foot, single story ranch house with a garage and a shop.  They talked to a well driller 10 years ago and he assured them it would be easy to put in a well, for a cost of around $18,000.Williamson_Overview

When Arnold and Eileen went to get a permit to drill a well, they ran into unexpected problems.  Parcels on either side have their septic systems close to the common property lines, so their possible well locations are few.  Maybe a bigger issue is the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014.  Will their pumping rate be limited, and will their well-drilling permit application get held up?

Now the Williamsons are checking into their surface water right.  Is it enough for some pasture for horses and a few cows, in addition to the house and garden?  The Turings who live on the east side say there are no water rights.  The Poulans, to the west, say they have lived here for 6 years and they have never had water – they think the water right was bought off the place, or lost because of non-use.Williamsons_and_neighbors  Now the Williamsons are upset and headed toward just plain mad.  The real estate agent said they had rights, and didn’t the title companies insure it??  After a few frantic calls, they found out that title companies don’t insure water rights.  But, their realtor gave them the number of some folks over on the north side of the highway, and they have a “decree map”.  Arnold and Eileen head over to the Winters’ place to look over the maps.  Brad and Jenny Winters even have a web address where the decree and maps can be downloaded:  https://allwaterrights.com/some-decrees-maps/  The Water Board’s web page has the decree, but no maps:  http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/board_decisions/adopted_orders/judgments/docs/cowcreek_jd.pdf.

SCow_Sheet_5_screenshot

It turns out that the Cow Creek adjudication does not have maps, but an engineering report done a few years before the decree was issued does have the maps.  Brad and Jenny have that report, too, so they have Sheets 1 through 5 showing the “Diversions And Irrigated Lands” on Cow Creek.  Besides that, they have the link to where they can get the South Cow Creek decree, and a link to a blog that has the maps not on the Water Board’s web site:  https://allwaterrights.com/some-decrees-maps/  Sheet 5 covers the area including the Winters and Williamson places.  Sheet 5 has a lot of “irrigated lands”Leggett_Focus_Area according to the legend – the green areas.

By looking at the maps, and their Assessor Parcel Map they have in their escrow package, it sure looks like their property is completely within the green area.  Great!  Now, how do they figure out if they actually have a water right?

Arnold and Eileen wonder, can they figure this out themselves?  Brad and Jenny tell them, they sure can, and there is a document online that explains how to do it: https://water.ca.gov/-/media/DWR-Website/Web-Pages/Programs/All-Programs/Watermaster-Services/Files/Water-Rights-Reapportionment-Method.pdf.  They take a look at it and see that, yes, the document fully explains the process, but it requires having either AutoCAD or GIS software.  Also, it will take deep familiarity with the decree – and it is starting to look like a 3-day job just to understand it enough for their parcel!  Arnold and Eileen don’t have the software or experience, so they decide it’s not worth their time to learn this…and they are not sure if they can do it right.

AP_Map_59-98_croppedAfter asking around, Arnold and Eileen figure out they will need to see an attorney.  They call around and find out there are a couple of engineering companies that can see them faster, and they might cost less.  They picked Rights To Water Engineering to help figure out their water rights.  Within a couple of weeks, they have a nice report in their hands and answers to their questions.  So what did they find out?  The map below is one of several from the report they got from the engineer, showing their property boundary on the 1965 decree map of irrigated lands:Ex_2_Williamson_Parcel_Outline_on_DecreeMap_reduced

The report cost $1,500.  The engineer warns them that if it gets contentious and they can’t work out access to the water with their neighbors, they may end up having to get legal help.  He recommends a couple of local water rights attorneys if it comes to that – there are some good lawyers who specialize in in water rights.  For now, though, they have documentation they can discuss with their neighbors to work on getting their water right to their property.

Their property is on land that back in 1968 belonged to Howard and Gladys Leggett.  It has an adjudicated second priority water right for irrigation equal to 0.063 cubic feet per second, or 28.5 gallons per minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from March through October.   This 2nd priority right is less than the second and third priorities on the upper creek and tributaries, but it is the highest irrigation priority on the lower creek.  Back when the property was flooded, that was usually enough to flood irrigate their entire lot to grow pasture or hay.  That’s great news!

As natural flows drop during the summer that amount is reduced and everyone with a lower creek second priority has to reduce their diversion by the same percentage.  In normal and wet years they could keep their pasture, hay, or whatever else they plant, irrigated for most or all of the irrigation season.  And whether or not they use the water, the right does stay with the land and protect their property value; there is no provision for the expiration of water rights in the decree (the same as for nearly all surface water rights decrees).

What else was in their report?  There was a cover letter, and next some excerpts from the decree.  Schedule 1 lists the places of use for all the original owners.  The Leggetts’ description takes up most of page 60; the Williamson’s property is on the 69.8 acres listed in the second paragraph for the Leggett land:

SCow_Sched1_Leggett_Places_Of_Use

 

Schedule 2 lists all the points of diversion, whether gravity diversions or pumps.  The Leggett property actually could get water from two diversions, a pump from the creek, and a proposed second, movable diversion on the creek.  That’s convenient – per the decree they could already divert their water from someone else’s existing diversion, or pump their water from Diversion 95, or they could get it from anywhere they can get agreement from the landowner!SCow_Sched2_Leggett_Points_Of_Diversion

SCow_Sched2_Leggett_Points_Of_Diversion_2

Schedule 6 lists the water rights for Lower Cow Creek – other schedules have rights for the upper creek and tributaries.  This is interesting: there are four priorities of rights and this part of the Leggetts’ property has

SCow_Sched6_LowerSCC_Leggett_Allots_second_page

 a 1st and a 2nd priority right.  What does that mean exactly?  The decree explains that 1st priority rights are domestic – houses and gardens.  It’s a very small right and it is not clear whether or how it should be divided up among the all the subdivided parcels that used to be the Leggett ranch.  The engineer noted it in the cover letter.

How was the water right calculated for the Williamsons?  Using a geographic information system, or GIS, the engineer used his training and years of experience to precisely overlay the Assessor Parcel Map on the decree map.  Then he measured the acreage for both, and prorated the water right by area.  The following screenshots of the Excel spreadsheet shows these calculations.

TractMgmtSheet_20151222_Arial_12_01_reduced

TractMgmtSheet_20151222_Arial_12_02_reduced

TractMgmtSheet_20151222_Arial_12_03_reduced

Time to fess up: this was a water right subdivision of a fictitious, made-up parcel of land, and the Williamsons don’t actually own it.  However, this story is one that happens every day, when a landowner asks “How much is my water right, really?  Can I divert for hay, stock, pasture, wildlife habitat, crops not mentioned in the decree, an orchard, ……… ?”  Having information before arguing with neighbors, seeing attorneys, sending legal letters, and going to court, can help smart people who generally have good relationships work out happy and agreeable solutions.  The Williamsons were smart and talked politely with their neighbors, the Turings and Poulens and Winters’s.  Now they have a good basis to live peacefully in their neighborhood for many years, and Arnold can borrow Charlie’s lawnmower until he gets his own.

Ex_2_Williamson_Parcel_Outline_on_Aerial_reduced

Do Something Wrong, Instead Of Nothing Right

Do something wrong, rather than nothing at all. Have you ever heard that before? I have heard it from Army veterans, a boss, even an elder of a church.  George Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  A non-military way to say that is, “A poor plan now is better than no plan at all.”

What it means to you and me is, if action is necessary, do something, maybe ANYthing, rather than freezing in place or ignoring a problem. This is obvious when you see a tornado 5 miles away, for example; either drive away from it if you are in a car, or take shelter if you are on foot. If you have a plumbing leak in the house and no parts to replace broken pipe, then put a bucket under it, or turn off the valve, and call a plumber. All of us have seen a TV show (or maybe had it happen to us) where the bad guy pointed a rifle and said, “Don’t move”. What do we all say to the TV? “Don’t just stand there, run!”. Doing nothing is a much worse choice, if the result for freezing in place is death or injury.

Ready-to-install 3-inch Montana Cutthroat Flume

What about water rights – how does doing something wrong help? Everyone knows by now that surface water diverters need measurement devices, so put in a weir box and boards and measure your flow before the threats come from the Water Board, your watermaster, your ditch tender, or your neighbor.  Even just stick horizontal boards in a ditch and seal the sides with plastic – something to take positive action to reduce future pain.

Remember to file the information for the measurement device with the Water Board, either via your annual report of diversions, or using the Water Right Form and Survey Submittal Portal.

Take a look at the blog posts below.  There is enough information and how-to directions, that you should be able to do it well enough to satisfy the Water Board.  Check out these posts:

There is a philosophy based in law and a lot of experience, that says don’t put any controls on yourself until the court or government makes

Temporary Weir In Ditch

you. Why remodel your house to accommodate the wiring or plumbing, if you aren’t selling the house and everything works okay right now? Who would put a lot of money into an old truck to make it pass smog, if it just might pass a smog check the next time it has to be done? What farmer would change how he irrigates or ranches if everything still operates and the bank will keep making operating loans?

All of the Water Board deadlines have passed to install measurement devices, or file Alternative Compliance Plans.  If you haven’t got your device or plan done yet, get a Request For Additional Time done as soon as possible.

Be proactive.  Take some inexpensive, temporary action.  Educate yourself for free with some time in the Internet. Even a small, less-than-perfect improvement in your measurement device, flow and water use record keeping, can pay back a lot more when you have to deal with potential Water Board fines, a court case, or even just an angry neighbor in the future.

Is John Stealing Water?? Orifices And Sum Of The Boxes

This is updated from a previous post, which was an example for a stream with adjudicated water rights.  However, it also works for any stream where there are water rights with legally defined diversion quantities, if all the diverters have headgates in good condition and/or measurement devices such as weirs, flumes, and pipe meters.

Is John Stealing Water??  John Casey has a cattle ranch near Adin, where he grows pasture and hay to raise about 70 Angus steers.  His ranch is 240 acres with lower irrigated land and forest on the higher part.  He has an a licensed water right of 2.00 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Preacher Creek, to irrigate 80 acres, from April 1 to November 1.

John’s downstream neighbors claim he steals water.  He says he can show that he takes only 2 cfs, or less when the flow drops down in the summer.  Can he prove it?John_Headgate_edit

As we can see, he has a square headgate at the head of his ditch.  It is 2.0′ wide, and can open up to 1.5′ high.  Right now, John says he is diverting 1.05 cfs.  His evidence is that his gate is open 0.15′, the water is 0.57′ deep on the upstream side, and the water is 0.20′ deep on the downstream side.  Is that enough to check what he says?

The box in which the gate sits has smooth walls, and the gate closes flush with the bottom when John is not diverting.  The water continues in a straight path from upstream to downstream.  That means the weir has “suppressed” sides.

This is in contrast with, for example, a hole cut in the middle of a 2″ x 12″ weir board.  The water on the sides has to make the turn to go straight through, so the hole in the board is an example of a “contracted” orifice.

Let’s look at the tables for orifices in the back of the Water Measurement Manual.  Table A9-3 is for submerged, suppressed weirs.WMM_Table_A9-3_suppressed

We can’t see the downstream side of the weir, but the water is above the bottom of the edge of the gate, so it is submerged rather than free-flowing.

This table has flows calculated for a minimum area of 2.0 square feet (sq. ft.).  However, the area of the opening at John’s headgate is 2.0′ wide x 0.15′ high, or 0.30 sq. ft.  Fortunately, the equation, Q=0.70A(2g Δh)^0.5, is listed right at the top of the table.  We can calculate the flow using that.  Q is the flow in cfs, A is the area of the orifice hole, g = the acceleration due to gravity, or 32.2 ft/second^2 (feet per second squared), and Δh is the difference between the upstream and downstream water depth.

So the flow Q = 0.70 x (2.0′ x 0.30′) x (2 x 32.2 x 0.37′)^0.5 = 1.03 cfs.  So far so good – John is taking 52%, or just over half of his right when 100 percent of flows are available.  But, how much flow is actually available right now?

Let’s use the “sum of the boxes” method.  Instead of measuring the amount of water in Preacher Creek at the top, before any diversions, and then estimating how much flow is being lost to evaporation, transpiration, and infiltration, and then estimating how much flow is subsurface above John Casey’s ranch and “pops up” out of the ground below, we’ll look at what each diversion amount is, plus the amount still in the creek after the last diversion.  This is very useful because none of the instream losses have to be estimated – we just add the diversions and flow still in the creek, and that amount IS the available supply.

Water Board Permits and Licenses are usually not interrelated – they specify water rights without considering the other water rights on the stream.  This is different from adjudicated streams, whether done by the Water Board or the Department of Water Resources.  Some Superior Court judges in past decades were pretty smart and actually ordered that available flows be calculated by the sum of the boxes:

Susan_1_of_2_DecreeParaAvailWaterEqualsDiversionsSusan_2_of_2_DecreeParaAvailWaterEqualsDiversionsThe paragraph above, from the Susan River Decree, defines available water supply as what is being diverted, plus the flow passing the last diversion.

There are 4 diversions on Preacher Creek, and here are the amounts being diverted:

  • Diversion 1 (John Casey) 1.03 cfs  of a 1.60 cfs water right, 52% of his total right
  • Diversion 2 (Amy Hoss) 1.67 cfs  of a 3.80 cfs water right, 44% of her total right
  • Diversion 3 (Mark and Cindy Sample) 0.55 cfs  of a 0.88 cfs water right, 62% of their total right
  • Diversion 4 (Quint and Marcie Minks) 1.32 cfs  of a 2.50 cfs water right, 53% of his total right
  • Flow still in the creek past the Minks Diverison – Quint estimates about 0.7 cfs

The total diversion-plus-bypass flow is about 5.3 cfs.  The total rights on the creek are 9.48 cfs.  Therefore, the total available flow = 5.3 / 9.48 = 56%.

So, John is right, he is not stealing water!  He is taking 52% of his water right, when he could be taking 56% according to the “sum of the boxes” method.  Not only that, but Amy could take more, the Samples should reduce their diversion, and the Minks’s could take a tad more.  Well, that’s theoretical – Quint and Marcie Minks probably cannot seal up their dam completely, so there may be a little bit less flow actually available for diversion.

[Update/Repost] Do Something Wrong, Instead Of Nothing!

Do something wrong, rather than nothing at all. Have you ever heard that before? I have heard it from Army veteran friends, a boss, even an elder of a church.

What it means to you and me is, if action is necessary, do something, maybe ANYthing, rather than freezing in place or ignoring a problem. This is obvious when you see a tornado 5 miles away, for example; either drive away from it if you are in a car, or take shelter if you are on foot. If you have a plumbing leak in the house and no parts to replace broken pipe, then put a bucket under it, or turn off the valve, and call a plumber. All of us have seen a TV show (or maybe had it happen to us) where a bad guy or an enemy pointed a rifle and said, “Don’t move.”. What do we all say to the TV? “Don’t just stand there, run!”. Doing nothing is a much worse choice!

Man working in ditch CostaDisc2-129 - EditedWhat about water rights – how does doing something wrong help? Everyone knows by now that surface water diverters need measurement devices, so put in a weir box and boards and try to measure flow if the Water Board, your watermaster, or your neighbor is promising painful consequences. Even stick boards in a ditch and seal the sides with gravel – something to take positive action to reduce future pain.

Take a look at the blog posts here.  There is enough information and how-to directions, that you might be able to do it right!  Check out these posts:

There is a philosophy based in law and a lot of experience, that says don’t put any controls on yourself until the court or government makes you. Why remodel your house to accommodate the wiring or plumbing, if you aren’t selling the house and everything works okay? Who would put a lot of money into an old truck to make it pass smog, if it just might pass a smog check the next time it has to be done? What farmer would change how he irrigates or ranches if everything still operates and the bank will keep making operating loans?

Surface water and groundwater are getting 10 50 times the attention they were prior to 2009. If the Water Board, or California Fish and Wildlife, or any other agency comes along, do something, anything, to comply sooner, even if it’s not the ultimate solution. Two posts ago, bureaucrats were discussed – they are still human beings and most people appreciate some effort to “get with the program”.

Be proactive, take some inexpensive action, educate yourself for free with some time in the Internet. Even a small, less-than-perfect improvement in your measurement device, flow and water use record keeping, diversion practices, or acreening, can pay back a lot more when you have to deal with agencies, a court, or an angry neighbor in the future.

How Do Shared Ditch Users Comply With SB 88?

This is a summary of how water right holders who share a ditch comply with SB 88, and report correctly to the Water Board.  So, why I am I using the Measurement Method Form Instructions below?  Because, this has the best summary that I have seen, of how a shared ditch is measured and reported.  In short:

  • every water right holder on a ditch has to sign onto the same form;
  • each person’s split, land use, and irrigated acreage must be reported;
  • the ditch manager and each person is responsible to report leaving the agreement – presumably this covers every property sale, too.

Excerpts from the Instructions:

…Examples of Measurement Methods include:  Multiple water right holders on a single surface supply may propose a collaborative measurement approach.

“…Attach maps, aerial photographs, or other renderings showing the area covered by the Method and delineating the acreage of each place of use served. For the area covered by the Method, include a list of assessor’s parcel numbers and the current owner of each parcel. Attachments can be uploaded in Section H of the online form.

…A Measurement Method based on using a shared measuring device shall include the following information:

  • Description of the methodology used to apportion the volume of water delivered to each diverter covered by the Measurement Method.
  • Description of the field or flow condition at each diverter’s delivery point, including duration of or period of water delivery, annual water use patterns, irrigated acreage, crops planted, and on-farm irrigation system.
  • Description of the consumptive use of water for each individual diverter, if available….”

“…A Measurement Method based on using a shared measuring device shall be accompanied by a written agreement signed by each diverter covered by the Measurement Method.

“…Each participant in a Measurement Method plan must sign the form or an “opt-in” form which must be retained by the Measurement Method manager. (Attach an excel spreadsheet listing of participants, as needed). Each Measurement Method participant shall acknowledge that the method will substantially comply with the measurement and monitoring requirements.

“…Each Measurement Method participant is responsible for promptly informing the Division of Water Rights or the Delta Watermaster, as appropriate, if the participant withdraws from the Method. The Method manager is responsible for promptly informing the Division of Water Rights or the Delta Watermaster, as appropriate, if the Method is modified or abandoned….

 

 

 

 

Rotation On 1 Farm; Between Diversions / Farms; And After Subdivision

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 Williamson_Parcel_Outline_on_DecreeMap_reducedrights, 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.Pixabay_water-340468_1280

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.

Shasta Co. Sup. Ct. South Cow Ck. Decree Sht. 5, NW part
  Shasta Co. Sup. Ct. South Cow Ck. Decree Sht. 5, NW part

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 sierra_vly_sht_5_legend-editedditches 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

sierra_vly_sht_5_sierraville_area-edited
  Sierra Valley Revised Decree Map, Portion Around Sierraville

 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.

Hat Creek Shearin Tract
  Hat Creek Shearin Tract, from August 2014 Revised Decree Map

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

Subdivision - Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Subdivision – Photo Credit: Pixabay

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. 

What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Your Water?? Rest Of The Story Version 2

This is the “Version 2” conclusion of the story What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Water?

Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer - Photo Credit: Pixabay
Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer – Photo Credit: Pixabay
Mark and Sally Saint Family - Photo Credit: Pixabay
Mark and Sally Saint Family – Photo Credit: Pixabay

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 wlucifer-saint_with_ditch_namesater 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.”

Backhoe Cleaning Dry Ditch, Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Backhoe Cleaning Dry Ditch, Photo Credit: Pixabay

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.”

pixabay_call_phone-61002_1280
Watermaster In His “Field Office” – Photo Credit: Pixabay

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

Putting In Small Rock Dam, Photo Credit: Pixabay
Putting In Larry’s Rock Dam, Photo Credit: Pixabay

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!

What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Your Water?? Rest Of The Story Version 1

This is the “Version 1” conclusion of the story What Should You Do If Your Neighbor Is Stealing Your Water?  Version 2 will be out in a couple of weeks.

Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer - Photo Credit: Pixabay
Angry Neighbor Larry Lucifer – Photo Credit: Pixabay
Mark and Sally Saint Family - Photo Credit: Pixabay
Mark and Sally Saint Family – Photo Credit: Pixabay

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 wlucifer-saint_with_ditch_namesater right.

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, how do I know what my water right is?”

“I don’t know, it’s your job to figure it out for your property.”

Sally tried another tack: “I noticed that your field stays green through August, and mine starts drying up in July.  I don’t know if this is correct, but it seems like maybe our field is getting less than our water right.  What do you think?”

“Dang it Sally, I make sure some water gets to you.  Do you have a way to measure it?  I don’t, and you don’t, so how the heck do you know you are not

Backhoe Cleaning Dry Ditch, Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Backhoe Cleaning Dry Ditch, Photo Credit: Pixabay

getting your full water right?  Besides, I clean out the ditch and keep it flowing with my backhoe, my fuel, my time, and I never ask you for help.”

Sally was a little embarrassed.  She had not thought about the work Larry did that helped her family out; she was getting to ready to acknowledge Larry’s help and tell him thanks when Larry barked, “You know what, Sally, I learned long ago don’t do anybody any favors.  My mistake for not making you pay your part.  Why don’t you get off my property, and I’ll have my attorney contact you.  If that’s not good enough I’ll get a court restraining order.  How about that?  I’m not sure how much water is going to make it down the ditch next year.  Now leave and don’t come back.”

Sally left, boiling mad and flabbergasted.  What did she do wrong?  Should she just forget it?  Were there really jerks like this, who you can’t talk to?  Sally went home and fumed, and then called the Water Board to demand some answers.  What were her rights, and how did she figure them out?  She couldn’t get anyone on the phone who would take the time; the Water Board was way too busy enforcing the SB 88 deadlines for measurement device installation.  Sally called back to the Department of Water Resources in Red Bluff and talked to one of the  Watermasters.  She explained everything that had happened.

pixabay_call_phone-61002_1280
  Watermaster In His “Field Office” – Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Watermaster explained: “Yeah, I’m sorry Sally, sometimes that’s the way it goes.  You have a riparian right, correct?  Well riparian rights are undefined – per the California Constitution, it’s whatever you can apply reasonably and beneficially, without wasting it.  You can’t ship it off your property, but you could use it anywhere, for any crop, livestock, and short-term storage less than 30 days.  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.

“You do have a right to maintain your ditch.  However, that doesn’t mean a neighbor won’t sue, which costs money and time no matter what.  If it were my place, I don’t think I’d walk on your neighbor’s land without permission.

“Hey, here’s an idea.  There’s no reason you couldn’t divert your flow from your

Pump - Photo Credit: Pixabay
  Pump – Photo Credit: Pixabay

own diversion.  Yes, you’re right, you would have to pump it, since the creek is a little downhill of where it would need to get onto your place.  The pump will cost a few hundred, plus some hundreds in sprinkler lines, plus some power cost each year, and right now you get the water for free with gravity.  But if you wanted, you could avoid dealing with your neighbor on water.  Oh, and since you would be pumping, think about putting in sprinklers to keep it efficient.

“Another thing to think about – what if he gets mad and cuts off the water completely?  You could see a lawyer and take it to court, and it would be decided once and for all.  But, a court action is very expensive, whether you win or lose, and you never know how a judge is going to decide.  Having your own pump might be a lot less expense and hassle in the long run.

“At least you have the option of your own diversion; think about people who aren’t riparian and aren’t getting their water.  They have to complain to the Water Board, or hire an attorney, and maybe even sue in court!

“I wish I had a better answer for you.  Right, ‘water’s for fighting, whiskey’s for drinking,’ as the old saying goes.  As you’re seeing now, sometimes water just seems like an excuse to carry on an argument.  Putting in a pump might be your best option.  Call back if you have any questions, okay?  I hope it works out well in the end.”

The end of the story is that Sally talked with Mark, and she was careful not to talk about her neighbor at the salon – gossip spreads like fire in a small town.  Mark and Sally decided to put in a small pump, some pipe, and some small sprinkler lines.  That way, they would not have to deal with Larry at all, and they would make sure to irrigate all the pasture.

Next time we’ll look at Version 2 of the end of the story.  Could things turn out differently, depending on how Sally approached Larry?  We’ll see!

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!

Table Of Contents For All Water Rights!

It was getting hard for ME to go back and find the posts I had written, so I added a Table Of Contents (TOC) to the left menu bar.  As of this date, there are 86 posts!  I like to put work into standard, documented procedures totable_of_contents_page-edited simplify life and make it easier for me to do the same thing next time, and for the next person in my job to pick it up quickly.  Why did I wait this long to do a simple TOC?

I wrote 5 times this much verbiage in emails as a bureaucrat, so it is not lack of ability.  Of course most of my State emails were for everyday work and coordination.  Little of it had public interest.

In this blog, though, every post is of interest to a few thousand water right holders.  The TOC lets you scroll through every post at your leisure and pick out the titles you are most interested in today.  Tomorrow you’ll have a different question, and the TOC and blog posts will still be here for your use.

Do you have a question or an idea you do not see in the TOC?  Let me know and I’ll publish a post about it!

On the How Do I? page, I picked out the burning questions and the posts how_do_i_page-editedthat provide the best answers.  When I received phone calls in the Watermaster job from which I recently retired, this lookup format was most useful in helping someone solve an immediate problem.

Is there a water rights issue or flow measurement problem you can’t find an easy answer for?  Let me know and I will write a post, then include the link on this page, too!

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