Summary of Water Rights, Flow Measurement Posts So Far

There have been 25 posts so far, on the types of California surface water rights, flow measurement devices, and how to measure diverted flows.  You’ll see new posts once or twice a week.  Please send suggestions for post topics!  We have discussed:

  1. All Water Rights, California
  2. Read Me My Rights (How do you know if you have a water right?)
  3. Reasonable And Beneficial Use Depends On Who You Are
  4. The Smartest Water Expert In California (Chuck Rich)
  5. Riparian Rules by Chuck Rich
  6. Water Rights – Why Do They Exist? Which Kinds Are There?
  7. Water Rights And Engineers
  8. California Water Right Holders Now Required To Have Measuring Device
  9. What Is Your Place Of Use?  (Where can you legally use your right?)
  10. Places Of Use – Adjudicated (Decreed) In The State Superior Court
  11. A Place For Permits And Licenses (Places of Use)
  12. Nothing Secret About It  (This is all public information.)
  13. Quick Change of Subjects: What’s a Water Right Permit Cost?
  14. Life Of Reilly: If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It!
  15. How to Divide Up a Decreed Water Right – Part 1
  16. How to Divide Up a Decreed Water Right – Part 2
  17. Weirs – Planning, Building, Measuring Flows
  18. From weir to orifice in only an hour
  19. Chilean Water Rights at (darn near) the Driest Place on Earth
  20. Some Hope in Rain and Snow Totals
  21. Is John Stealing Water?? Orifices – Right Size and How to Measure
  22. Worried about SB 88? That’s what this blog is for! Get a device in, send a photo to the Board, record and report your diversions
  23. Flumes – installing for decades of flow measurement, Part 1
  24. Simple Weirs and Orifices, on video, and in photos!
  25. Diverters must report weekly, daily, or HOURLY starting 2017!

Diverters must report weekly, daily, or HOURLY starting 2017!


So on Tuesday, January 20, “The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted regulations Tuesday evening requiring all surface water right holders and claimants to report their diversions. Those who divert more than 10 acre-feet of water per year must also measure their diversions.”  Click the logo above to see the 2-page document on the Board’s website.

Well, how bad can it be?  Before January 20, most diverters had to report monthly diversions, so 12 volumes per year, plus the annual total.  That’s 13 numbers.  The required frequency a year from now will be increased quite a bit, to weekly, or daily, or hourly:

For instance, large diverters with a claimed right to take 1,000 acre feet of water or more per year are required to have a measuring device or measuring method capable of recording at least hourly in place by Jan. 1, 2017; those with claimed rights to divert 100 acre feet or more must comply by July 1, 2017 and record at least daily; and those with claimed rights to divert more than 10 acre feet must comply by Jan. 1, 2018 and record at least weekly.

How can flows even be reported hourly?  See the end of this post.  What if someone decides to skip reporting, and let the Board catch up with them later?  The FINES can be large enough to hurt – we’ll discuss this in a later post.

At the minimum reporting requirement of weekly, the volume is 10 acre feet (AF) to 100 AF.  What is 10 AF in terms of a seasonal agricultural diversion?  All the flows shown below are year-round; if the diversion only runs seasonally, the actual water right might be 2 to 10 times the calculated amount, depending on how long the season is and when the stream dries up.

10 AF  =  0.014 cubic feet per second (cfs) year-round, or 6.2 gallons per minute (gpm).  That’s a domestic right, enough for a family house, garden, and perhaps 15 trees or a yard.

100 AF = 0.140 cfs, or 62 gpm year-round.  Depending on soil, this is enough for 3 to 15 acres of pasture or hay, maybe 15 cows or steers, or maybe 30 acres of a mature walnut orchard with micro-sprinklers.  This is enough for a little extra money, still not enough to support a family.About_1.4_cfs_over_weir_edited_2_small

1,000 AF = 1.40 cfs or 620 gpm year-round.  This is enough for 30 to 150 acres of pasture or hay, or maybe 300 acres of orchard.  Water in this quantity could support a family and would be considered a ranch or farm.  The 4′ weir above has about 1.4 cfs going over it.  As mentioned above, if this diversion only runs 6 months of the year, and really only gets the full flow for 3 months, then the actual continuous water right might be 5 cfs.  It might be easier to reverse the thinking: a 5 cfs right might run at 5 cfs for 3 months,  3 cfs for a month, 2 cfs for 2 months, and be off the rest of the year.  That’s closer to a 2 cfs right year-round, or about 1,400 AF per year.

How is flow measured HOURLY?  The only practical ways to do this used to be an old mechanical recorder, like a Stevens F Recorder (pen on paper on rotating drum) you can still see on some creeks.

More likely today, it will require a battery-powered pressure transducer set inside a 2″ pipe bolted on the side of the weir, or headwall, or other permanent structure.  These cost from $400 to $1,200 or more, depending on the brand and more importantly, quality.  The higher the quality, the less they have to be checked, and have dirt removed from the bottom sensor.  The maintenance can be significant – in warm water with algae, the sensor might have to be cleaned once a week.  If it’s not maintained…well, then at some point it stops recording that data that the Board requires.


Here’s one that would do the job, from products/levelsensor.html.  It sits there and records water levels night and day, for months at a time before it has to be downloaded to a computer.  The data file that is downloaded is what is actually sent to the Board – a spreadsheet of flows for 6 months would be half an inch think and unusable!

That’s enough for now, a good night to you all.

Worried about SB 88? That’s what this blog is for! Get a device in, send a photo to the Board, record and report your diversions

Worried about SB 88?  That’s what this blog is for!  Read here to select a flow measurement device, install it, send a photo to the Board, record your flows, and report them as required.  You will find most or all of the information you need in here.  If you need help, Rights To Water Engineering can help you meet the law quickly and at a relatively low cost.  (530) 526-0134

California Senate Bill 88 is effective as of January 1, 2016, 11 days ago as of this posting.  Here is the part that affects private or small agricultural diverters the most:


Quick Change of Subjects: What’s a Water Right Permit Cost?

What does it cost to get a surface water right?  If your land is not riparian to the stream where the water is, or maybe one parcel is but your other 5 parcels are not, then you’ll need to file for a (Post-1914) appropriative right with the State Water Resources Control Board.


Let’s say you want to irrigate 50 acres of new almond orchard in the Sacramento Valley.  How much water do you need for micros-sprinkler irrigation?  Let’s use the value for a 5-year-old orchard, about 3.33 acre-feet (AF) per year for irrigation and frost protection.  That number comes from the U.C. Davis Report Sample Costs To Establish An Orchard And Produce Almonds Sacramento Valley – 2012, at ,

The total annual volume of water for 50 acres is 3.33 * 50 = about 167 AF/year.  That equates to a constant flow of 0.03 cfs.  But, you probably irrigate one day per week, so 7 times the average rate = 0.21 cfs. So, in your permit application, you would need to apply for 167 AF/year, diverted at a maximum rate of 0.21 cfs.

To get the rate for filing for a permit with the Board, we need to check the fee schedule:


So your application fee would be $1,000, plus $15 per AF over the first 10 AF.  Your cost would be $1,000 + (167 AF – 10 AF) * $15/AF, for a total of $3,350.  There is also an annual cost:


Your annual fee would be $150 + $0.063 per AF over the first 10 AF.  Your annual cost would be $150 + (167 AF – 10 AF) * $0.063/AF, for a total of $160/year.

Of course, these costs are if it’s a “slam dunk” and there are no complications.  There would likely be a 1602 permit required by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and there could be other permits.  If anyone contests the application, then you would have more fees (see the schedule), perhaps attorney fees, and perhaps a negotiation to use water from someone else’s diversion.

A Place For Permits And Licenses

A Permit or License is required to hold Post-1914 water rights issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. An Application starts the process, then the right is permitted, and once proven, licensed.  This is the engineering summary of the process, not as precise or detailed as an answer from an attorney or a bureaucrat.

Let’s take a look at a license.  All of the information shown here is publicly available and it was downloaded from the Board’s website.  Note that the License has 3 identification numbers, all of which are important:

Application:  18405          Permit:  13122          License:  12363

From the language in the body, it is clear that the first use of water at this location was in 1958.  An Application was filed at some point, and proof of the claim was established in 1979 when the Board inspected the diversion.  A Permit might have been issued at the same time in 1979 – that information is not listed here.  Finally in 1988, the water right holder obtained the License.



Now to the subject of this post, on Page 2 the Place of Use is listed.  The clip below shows the end of Page 1 and the start of Page 2:


The place of use is defined as  1) at the reservoir, and  2) on 357.7 acres somewhere within 3 Sections, an area totaling about 1,900 acres.  The clip above also lists the point of diversion, and the purposes of use, but we’re focusing on the Place of Use right now.  Let’s go look at the map.

Whoops!  This License was downloaded as a PDF from the Board’s Electronic Water Rights Information Management System (eWRIMS) website at The thousands of downloadable permits and licenses in the database do not include the maps, as far as I have ever seen.  To get that, we would have to visit the Board’s office in the CalEPA building in Sacramento.

However, there is also an eWRIMS Geographic Information System (GIS), in addition to the database.  We can see the location of the diversion on either a  topographic map, or on an aerial photo.  Here’s what that looks like:


The pink text in the middle of the photo is where the GIS shows the diversion for this License.  What is the Place of Use?  That is not shown.  With some other information, like who owns the surrounding parcels of land, and maybe a telephone call to the owner, manager, or representative, we could probably figure out where the Place of Use is.

However, land can change hands so the owner shown on the license may no longer be correct.  Sometimes parcels get split up and one of the present-day owners pays for the permit covering the entire Place of Use.  It can get complicated without seeing the original hardcopy of the map.  The owner might not even have a copy of the map, especially if ownership has changed hands several times.  It’s good to memorize or keep on a Post-It the number for the Board: (916) 341-5300.

That’s enough for this post.  Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the Place of Use, Purpose of Use, Point of Diversion, and water right amount….

All Water Rights, California

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