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/

The Complaint Box

Have you ever used an old-style complaint box?  It made us feel better to write out a grievance, and then put it in the special box for that purpose.  Often, there would be no response, so nobody knew if the complaint was read, or ignored, or some action taken but not communicated.

Now we air criticisms and accusations with much greater speed and efficiency.  It’s called Email, generally directed to one or a few poeple, or the very public Twitter, FaceBook, Yelp, Foursquare, or 500 other online venues.  This often isn’t better but it does get results!  A thousand “Yeah me too”s, ten thousand “You’re an idiot”s, and a hundred thousand ugly troll comments.  Have you successfully complained online and had a positive result?  You’re in a small minority.

What if another water diverter on your ditch is taking all the water, or someone files a right for the water you have lawfully used for years, or the new neighbor bullies you and 4 others into not taking your water because he says he’ll file a lawsuit?  Fortunately the Water Board has a way to complain about water rights.  If you Google “Water Board Complaints”, the following page is usually the first result you’ll get:


Now what?  You need to click the “CalEPAEnvironmental Complaint website” link, and then you’ll see the page to the right:

Click on the “Water” radio button, and click “Complaint Details at the bottom of the page.




This will take you to a series of web pages, shown here as the very long page shown on the left.  The pages prompt for information, so enter all the details entered.  What if you don’t know something?  Put in the best information you have and move on to the next section.

What if you don’t want anyone to know who complained?  You can file it anonymously.  However, you can imagine that putting your John Henry on there would get a better response from the Water Board folks.




Once you do that, and hit “Submit”, you’re done.  A web page will pop up with some information, and you’ll get a confirmation email:

Wonderful, your complaint is in the system!  How long will it take for you to get a call or an email from someone at the Water Board?  If your protest is about a large water right, in the Central Valley, and is well-documented, you may hear back in a month or two.  What if your water right is small, you’re in Del Norte County, and you don’t have all the details?  Well…it might be many months, and possibly never.    Keep in mind, most Water Board staff have five times the workload than any of them can possibly do.  Supervisors and staff have to pick and choose what they can work on that might result in an action, and which will have support from their supervisor or manager.

How can you best ensure that your complaint is addressed, and you get contacted by Water Board personnel?  Document, document, document.  Get right to the point of what you want the State employee to do.  Speak bureaucrat.  That’s a language similar to English, but which is much better understood by a state employee than standard English.  I know, because I had to speak bureaucrat for 30 years!  Now I speak bureaucrat to help solve diverters’ headaches to provide peace of mind, and help stay out of trouble.

H-S Flumes For Accurate Measurements Of Small Flows

What if you have a small diversion, but grass or debris would interfere with a standard weir?  A weir has to have unobstructed, free-flowing water over

        Weir with debris and grass on crest

the crest so measured depths accurately relate to a calculated flow.  A weir with debris problems has to be cleared whenever flow is measured, which increases the time requirement.

When weirs have low flows, they trap debris more frequently, and they are less accurate when the depth over the crest drops below  0.2 feet (2.4 inches).  Then the only way to measure flow is with a narrow suppressed weir, or with a contracted weir, typically half or less the maximum width.  A V-notch weir can be used for measurement of low flows.

Changing the weir boards for different flows requires someone with experience,

                      Contracted weir

who will recognize when the depth over the weir is 0.2 feet or less and then use a contracted weir board.  However, people are busy when irrigating, and even busier when flows drop.  Weirs are often neglected during the time they need more frequent maintenance visits.


A good flume for passing debris and measuring low flows is the HS flume.  These are accurate right down to zero flow.  For the maximum flow, they require more

1.0-foot HS flume, for flows of 0.00 to 0.80 cfs

material than a rectangular Winflume, Montana, or Parshall flume.  However, they are more accurate than other flumes at very low flows – testing by the University of Minnesota found an average accuracy to be +/- 3.2% for ideal approach conditions.  They will pass debris down to zero flow – the flume shown here has an opening of 0.05 feet, or 5/8 inch at the flat bottom, and the opening increases with height.

        HS flume for flows up to 0.8 cfs
                 HS flume at 0.025 cfs

Why aren’t HS flumes common in California?  I suspect that the early adoption of Parshall flumes here established the standard.  I have seen a few hundred flumes, but I had never seen an operating HL (wide, high flow), H, or HS flume, prior to my installations.

Why go to the trouble of using an HS flume, if Parshall flumes are readily

                   New Parshall Flume

available?  A Parshall flume may be +/- 10% accurate down to perhaps 5% of its maximum flow.  Below that, the accuracy decreases.  An HS flume is +/- 10% accurate down to 1% to 2% of its maximum flow.  If the flow regime is predominantly low with occasional high flows, it is important to measure those low flows with the best possible accuracy.  Some places where low flow measurement is critical include field runoff where pollution is proportional to flow, small water rights, and dam leakage.

HS flumes are easier to construct than a Parshall, too.  The HS flume bottom is flat, and it has 3 vertical planes.  The photos of the Parshall flume here show

            Bottom of Parshall flume

that it has 3 horizontal planes, and 5 vertical planes.  An HS flume takes less time to build, and can be put together fairly quickly in any farm or ranch shop.  Parshalls are complex enough that they are purchased, including design and shipping costs.



Pump Efficiency Curve Instead Of Meter

Do you always have to have a purchased flow meter and data recorder for a pipeline? No you don’t. If you pump your flow, you can probably use a certified pump efficiency curve and your online 15-minute or hourly power records.

Call a pump shop that will produce a certified pump efficiency curve for you. The curve itself will cost $300 to $700, and there may be up to $1,000 in setup work to install gage access ports or create acoustic meter mounting points. The resultant curve will have a certified accuracy, in the range of +/- 2-3%, plus an accuracy range for changing pumping levels or variable pump flow rates. The ratings will be +/- 10% or better, and so satisfy the Water Board regulations.

Graphics credit: West Virginia University

The person doing the work can provide you a spreadsheet so you can paste in your power records and get hourly flow rates. The certification will be good for at least a couple of years, and when it is redone for you, will cost in the $300 to $700 range.

These costs look pretty good compared to a meter that will cost $1,500 to $4,000, and has to be recalibrated and maintained every couple of years. Another big benefit is that the pump curve lets your pump shop know what to recommend for you to get the most efficiency, and spend less money for your power!

Will this method work for groundwater as well as surface water pumps?  Yes it will.  SGMA requirements include well metering for a whole bunch of pumps, so this can be of use to you no matter how you pump your water.

Who should you call? See http://www.pumpefficiency.org/pump-testing/pump-testers/

One real expert is Bill Power:

Power Services, Inc.
6301 Beardon Lane
Modesto, CA 95357
209.527.2908 (Voice)
209.527.2921 (Fax)
Contact – Bill Power

Specify Your Riparian Water Right In Your Deed

Do you have a riparian water right?  If your property borders or crosses   a natural stream, then you probably do.  If you are unsure, then read the best explanation I have seen, in plain language, in this short document:

Riparian Rules By Chuck Rich.

What can destroy your riparian water right?

  • A property split, if it results in a subdivided parcel that no longer borders the stream.
  • A Superior Court Decree, while it does not take away riparian water rights, can restrict how much and when that riparian water right can be used during irrigation season.
  • A stream can move through the process of erosion, so that a property no longer touches a stream.  How much movement is enough?  “It depends.”  If it is gradual, and the diversion remains active, then the riparian water right is probably still secure.  If a stream suddenly moves, so that it cuts through the property on the other side, and now there is a piece of that property between your parcel and the stream, this avulsion could very well remove a riparian water right.  The water right would only be definitely lost through some action of the Water Board, state Superior Court, or federal court.
  • A person or agency can take a piece of property along the stream.  A person might try and succeed in getting part of your property through adverse possession.  So, always pay your taxes, and notify anyone who leases or regularly accesses your property that you retain full ownership.  An agency might take it to build a levee, or create a corridor of riparian habitat.  In either case, your parcel would be severed from the stream.

How can you protect your riparian water right?

Know the law – print out Chuck’s explanation and read it every few years.

Put it in your property deed.  How should that be done?

  • The best way would be to get the help of an experienced water rights attorney who has written riparian water right provisions for property.  There are very few of these attorneys and they can be hard to find.
  • Put in plain English what you want to do.  What might you include?
      • State that the property has a riparian water right, name the stream, and describe the diversion point, place of use, and purpose of use.  Include an Assessor Parcel Map of your parcel(s).  If possible, include photographs.
      • State that this riparian water right is retained even if the stream moves, gradually or suddenly, away from your parcel.
      • State that it is your intent, and it will be the intent of you, your heirs, and any other purchaser, to retain the riparian water rights for any subdivided parcel, whether adjacent to the stream or now.

If you have a parcel that was severed in the past, but that parcel has used the 

same diversion point continuously from the time before the subdivision, state in your deed that the intent at the time of the subdivision was to retain riparian water rights for your parcel, and that you have continued to divert under  riparian right of claim, and that you do have a riparian water right.

No Record Of Water Right, Or Split? File Initial Statement

What do you do if your water right has never been recorded with the State Water Resources Control Board?  Or, if your property was split from a larger farm or ranch, and you are handling your smaller water right on your own?  After all, every water right has to be filed with the Water Board, except most of those that are uniquely listed in Superior Court Decrees.  This is true regardless of whether the water right is riparian or appropriative (pre- or post-1914).

You’ll need to file an Initial Statement.  These are 4 pages unless cannabis is grown with the water right – that adds page 5.  The forms are downloadable, fillable PDFs.  If you have your information together and you are handy 

                        Water Board Initial Statement, Page 1 of 5

with Google Earth, you might have your form done in a few hours.  As with any property description, the better it can be explained, the easier it is to defend your water right if someone has a complaint.

With the Water Board, it’s better if you file before the Water Board comes looking for you.  I have not seen folks get fines for filing even when water rights have been used for 50 years, or 100, or even since 1850 (or earlier).  The Water Board folks are good to work with and they would much rather that people become compliant with the law, than write nasty letters and issue fines.  That may not always be true as regulations get tougher, so get your filing done soon!

How is an Initial Statement different from filing a Water Right Application?  An Initial Statement is filed if the water right is already in use.  The Water Board is careful to point out that an Initial Statement is not the basis of, nor is it proof for a water right.  It is just the way to report if diversion or storage has taken place for some time.

What if your storage or diversion began after 1914, since that is when the Water Board was created and when its authority began?  Except for riparian rights, this is a gray area.  I think the official answer from most folks at the Water Board is that appropriative water rights after 1914 are only established by a water right application, obtaining a Permit, and hopefully perfecting that Permit into a License.

In reality, there have been many Initial Statements filed for post-1914 water rights.  It seems that these stand if there isn’t already a complaint against the filer, and if the water right is not in an already over-appropriated stream where there are obviously more water rights than water.  The presence of chinook salmon or steelhead trout might put a post-1914 Initial Statement in question, too.

The problem with filing a Water Right Application is that you have no idea what the  outcome may be.  It might be denied, or have restrictive conditions imposed, and you won’t know until you have spent some thousands of dollars.  Even if your water right is senior to some rights that were filed decades ago, the outcome is unknown.  Also, the Water Board folks are extremely busy, and some applications are never completed.

So, many folks take the safe action to protect their water right and comply with the law:  they file an Initial Statement.  Better to do something not exactly right, or even wrong, than nothing at all.

No Trouble Catching Up SB 88 Late & Drought Over

I forgot to mention in my last post on SB 88 compliance, https://allwaterrights.com/2019/02/27/hiding-from-the-water-board-dont-worry-get-compliant/, that you’re still okay if you comply with SB 88 now.  The Water Board is not issuing Cease And Desist Orders (CDO) or fines for folks who catch up now, even though it’s late.  This is true whether you have yet to install a measurement device, a data logger/recorder, or catch up your Reports Of Licensee or Supplemental Statements.  I have seen no adverse action for anyone I know, or clients of other consultants.  There are a couple of exceptions here:

  • You need to catch up before the Water Board contacts you.  By that time, you’re probably getting or about to get a CDO with 30 days to comply and report.
  • If you’re already being contacted, if you received a CDO, if the Water Board is issuing you an Administrative Civil Liability (ACL), if you’re headed to an ACL hearing, then you still need to comply as quickly as possible.  Your hassles and fines will not increased, or they may be significantly reduced, and you may still be able to stop the process before you get fined.

I don’t know what may happen in, say, 2020, for folks who have no data for 2018.  The same logic applies: get a data logger in and collecting data as soon as possible, and there might be no hassles even for missing data.

Start with a Request For Additional Time.  This is quick to fill out and buys you some instant grace.  Also, if you had extenuating circumstances like the Carr, Camp, or Mendocino Complex Fires, or other disasters, send an email to Jeff Yeazell, the Water Board’s Public Contact official outside of the Delta.  Jeff is very nice, and he is careful to respond back and to keep the emails he gets.

As always, explain in the Remarks and/or other text sections of your Reports Of Licensee or Supplemental Statements anything that helps explain your late compliance, and anything that shows even partial compliance.

And the best news right now is that the drought is over!


Hiding From The Water Board? Don’t Worry, Get Compliant

Are you hiding from the Water Board because your ditch or piped diversion does

Small Ditch In Meadow With No Measurement Device

not yet have a measurement device?  Give me a call at (530) 526-0134 –  you might find some workable answers in a 15-minute conversation that costs nothing.  You want to get on with the important things in your life and business, and my mission is to help you by solving diverters’ headaches to provide peace of mind, and help stay out of trouble.

The installation deadlines were January 1, 2017 through January 1, 2018.  Maybe you don’t want any more government oversight because you put up with a lot already.  You could be losing sleep over the potential large fines.  Or, what if you do install a device, and you worry that you will be in trouble and have to pay fines as soon as you report your new compliance with SB 88?  You might not know what needs to be done, and you’re worried it will cost you $15,000, or $20,000, or more.

You might be thinking that the Water Board is plenty busy, and you’re right.  The folks there are going through thousands of online forms for Measurement Methods, Alternative Compliance Plans, Reports Of Licensee and Supplemental Statements that have new measurement device information in the blanks, and Requests For Additional Time.  My guess is that it could take as long as 5 years before the enforcement staff get out to the most far-flung corners of the State…but it could be as soon as a year, depending on how the to-do pile is sorted.

Diversion Ditch Before Measurement Device Installed

Diversion Dam and Ditch Before Measurement Device Installed







Diversion Ditch Before Measurement Device Installed

Diversion Ditch Before Measurement Device Installed







Sure, some measurement devices have to be big to handle large diversions.  A direction of 20 cubic feet per second (9,000 gallons per minute) or more may require something like the first two flumes shown below.  The Parshall Flume shown below may be a $20,000 installation, but the Watchman Flume might only be an $8,000 installation.

As the diversion size decreases, the size and cost of the measurement device go down, too.  There may be a relatively temporary solution, like the pipe and board weir that costs only $1,000 or so including the water level logger if you do it yourself.  A larger, more permanent measurement device can be installed later.

New Watchman Flume In Medium Sized Ditch

New Parshall Flume

New 3-Foot Wide Briggs Mfg Concrete Weir

New McCrometer McPropeller Inline Meter With Data Collector





New Watchman Flume

New Montana Flume In Small Ditch






Temporary Pipe And Board Weir

Converting Logger Pressure to Depth & Storage/Flows

If you have a pipeline as part of your diversion, then an in-line meter with an integrated data collector can be installed.  The data files from these units are

McCrometer McPropeller inline meter with data collector

easily readable in Excel, and the files can be sent directly to the Water Board to meet the requirements of SB 88.

What if you don’t have a pipeline?  Then your flow needs to be measured in the open ditch with a weir, flume, or orifice.  These devices measure the flow but they don’t record the data.  To continuously record data, a submersible logging instrument must be used to measure the water pressure at the bottom of the box.  These logging instruments are commonly put into stilling wells that are inside or outside the measurement device.

Flume with attached stilling well for water level logger

How are water pressure logger measurements converted to diverted flows or reservoir storage?  Why does anyone even have to have an electronic pressure logger?  Onset ComputerPMCIn-Situ, , and other manufacturers sell data loggers and water level loggers, not pressure loggers, so why is this post talking about measuring pressures at all?

Bluetooth Hobo Logger, cabled to recorder and barometric compensator unit – least expensive option for a single location



Loggers record pressure, because that is the easiest physical attribute to measure.  A data logger in water does not know how deep it is, and it does not

 know how much flow is going by, or how much water is being stored in a reservoir.  Pressures relate directly to static (standing) water depths, and then equations convert the depths to flows, or to reservoir storage volumes.

How is pressure converted to depth?  It’s an easy calculation – water that is one foot deep has a pressure of 0.4335 psi at the bottom.  So, if your logger measures 1.60 psi, then the calculation to get depth is 1.60 psi / 0.4335 psi per foot = 3.69 feet of depth.

Note that water level loggers can be of two types.  The least expensive are completely submersible, and do not compensate for barometric pressure.  For an idea of  the readings of barometric pressure in a measurement device, a 2 foot deep logger records a pressure of 0.8670 psi.  Atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 14.7 psi, and high in the mountains may be 12.0 psi.  Air pressure is much greater than those measured in ditches.  Usually two of these loggers are used at once, one in the water, and one out of the water measuring only air pressure.  This also eliminates the variability in pressure due to weather changes.

Stilling well in a weir

The second type of data logger compensates for barometric pressure at the same time water pressure is being recorded.  That way, the water and air pressure data sets do not have to be combined before conversion to depths.  These loggers were always more expensive until the Bluetooth Hobo water level logger came along; as of February 2019 I found that it is the least expensive option for a single location.

Now that you can calculate any depth, how do you convert depths to reservoir storage?  That requires an Area-Capacity curve, also known as an Elevation-Storage curve.  The points can be picked off the curve.  For example, in the curve below, a depth of 8.5 feet would correspond to an elevation of 2,802.5 feet, and a reservoir storage volume of 30 acre-feet.

An owner of a reservoir with a capacity over 10 acre-feet must collect monthly storage values.  That’s easily done by hand.  However, a reservoir with a capacity of 50 AF requires weekly measurement; over 200 AF requires daily measurement; and over 1,000 AF requires hourly measurement.  That is really tedious to do by hand.

This is where an Excel spreadsheet can make the task a whole lot easier!  The spreadsheets shown below are just for this.  The first sheet helps translate a graph into a table of elevations and storage volumes.  The second sheet translates collected pressure values into depth and storage values, for as many data points as needed.

For diversion ditches from a stream, how are pressures converted to flows?  The logger is in a stilling well, usually a pipe connected to the inside or outside wall of the weir, flume, or orifice.  It measures pressure, which is easily converted to depths.

As with reservoirs, Excel spreadsheets make the conversion process a whole lot easier.  The sheets below have the rating curve for a suppressed weir, and the second sheet converts pressure to actual water depths over the weir boards.  Even for thousands of hourly readings, the hourly flow volumes are quickly calculated and are ready to send to the Water Board: