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 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
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!

Work Is Ramping Up, Blog Might Slow Down

Work is ramping up, which is a good thing, but posts in this blog may slow down.  I’ll have a post out on what do do if a neighbor is stealing water, in a couple of days.


A question came up from a client: Am I associated with a government agency?


The answer is:  Nope, I am not.  I retired from one – the California Department of Water Resources – but I have no obligations to anyone except

you, the client.  I do not share clients’ information, either, except when someone hires me on purpose to report their diversion amounts to the Water Board, or to certify a measurement device for the Board.

Have a good weekend, let’s pray for more snow and rain!


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!


Use BING or DUCKDUCKGO To Search When Google Won’t Do The Job

This isn’t directly about water rights or devices, it is about how to find the information you need.  In the past I suggested using the Google search engine to find a specific past blog post on a subject.  For example on losing water rights, I might try Googling lose my water right.  The first result would be my blog post, Can I Lose My Water Right?.  Most people love Google – it is part of the language – “Google it!” – and it searches blazing fast.

google_lose_my_water_right-editedNow, however, Google‘s search algorithm may find it, or may NEVER find it.  A big part of the reason is that Google tries to give you “the answer you really want” – their engine makes assumptions for you.  That’s nice when it is right, and can make you tear your hair out when it is dead wrong.  Also, Google is better than the NSA at storing every fact about your life, forever, so they can make a profit from you.  That’s fine, I am a big fan of capitalism, but it means Google may skew your search results or remove certain results altogether.  Sure, Google will list it first if I quote the search:  “lose my water right”, but how many times are we sure of the exact phrase?bing_lose_my_water_right-edited

For more reliable search results, I use Microsoft’s BING.com nowadays.  BING is
more literal in searching the words you enter.  As the Avis car rental company used to say, “We’re number 2, so We Try Harder!”  BING does try harder to answer the searches actually entered into the box.

DUCKDUCKGO.com is another good search engine, that gives more literal results.  Apparently, DUCKDUCKGO is also not keeping a huge database to steer duckduckgo_lose_my_water_right-editedyou to purchases.  As they say on their About page,  “Take back your privacy!  Switch to the search engine that doesn’t track you.

When you can’t find something, don’t use Google, use BING or DUCKDUCKGO to get the answers you are really searching for!

As a check, I tried each search engine on the unquoted phrase lose water right.  I thought it might show up on the first page with Google, but it did not.  Since my blog post is ONLY about losing water rights, I thought it might at least be in the top 10.  As a matter of fact, when I had searched 6 or 7 times on Google, it blocked me from searching for that phrase at all, thinking I might be a robot.  That’s funny, since I am using a Google Chromebook which uses Google‘s own operating system!

When I did the same unquoted search, lose water right, on BING and DUCKDUCKGO, the blog post “Can I Lose My Water Right?” was the sixth result on the first page.

Who would have thought that the Internet tools you use can make such a big difference with the information you find?  As I just told my wife, I am using BING more and more to get what I actually requested!  BING is not just the name of a famous crooner or a kind of cherry anymore.

Can Measuring Your Diversion Make You Money??

Yes, if you know how much you divert by the month or week, you can take it to the bank.  Literally, if you have good numbers, it can make the difference between getting the operating or improvement loan you want, or working harder to get a lesser amount.  Your water right is a resource, just like the land, equipment, seed, feedMan working in ditch CostaDisc2-129 - Edited, livestock, or anything else.  The better proof you have on just how much of that resource, in this case your diversion, that you have, the more solid it looks to a banker.

Another well-known fact, you have to measure your diverted water to manage it.  Chris Reilly, the
Department of Water Resources Indian Creek Watermaster in Plumas County, educates people on this fact all the time.  In one case, a diverter was correctly diverting the right amount, but was losing more than half of it in the short ditch before it reached the field.  Why photo_4957didn’t the farmer know?  He had not measured it.  Once Chris measured it, the owner knew what he was losing.  He piped part of his ditch and was able to irrigate more acreage.  That’s money in the pocket once the pipe is paid off!

Every buyer of property has a bunch of questions, and how much water is actually available is top of the list for a farm or ranch.  If you can show records of how much you log_book_exampledivert, it gives certainty to a doubtful buyer or potential lessee.  They’ll know how much they can expect to have for irrigation in a wet, normal, or dry year.  I had so many calls over the years I worked at the Department of Water Resources, from realtors, attorneys, buyers, and sellers, asking “What is my water right?  How do I prove it?”  Sometimes it was sell or no-sell depending on the answer.  On one ranch near Fall River, a riparian right on a square-mile ranch was in question.  A Nevada buyer called Irrigation_smallme several times trying to understand California water rights and prove whether or not there was a solid water right on this ranch.  If the seller had documented his water right and how much he diverted annually, there would have been no doubt at all!

It supports your water right.  Water rights make land worth more, a LOT more than dry land.  The better a water right is documented, as well as diversions made under that right, the more solid you right is.

Most farmers want their kids to inherit the place and keep it in agricultural production.  It is a way of life available to fewer families each year, which means it is scarce, and that makes living on a working farm that much greater a gift to leave behind you.  Your will, or trust, or LLC, or corporation documents, need to be all squared away so your wishes are met after you have passed on.  A proven water right is one of the important things you’ll need in that documentation to ensure your family can keep irrigating the farm down the generations.

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

Permits And Licenses – What Are The Water Rights When Land Is Subdivided?

 Back in December, I posted on the place of use for water rights defined in A018405_ewrims_lic_pg1_purpose_amtpermits and licenses from the Water Board:  


Permits and licenses have a place of use – sometimes it is easy to locate on the ground, and sometimes it is so-many-acres within a larger area.  I have never found the maps with the online, downloadable documents available at eWRIMS.  To get the maps, staff at the Water Board have to be contacted, and a copy of the map must be requested separately.

If you have, or some other diverter has a water right and the land has never subdivided since the time that the permit or license was issued, then a new owner will easily be able to see where the water right is diverted and applied.  What if you own land subdivided from a larger farm or ranch with a permitted or licensed right?  Do you have a water right at all?  I asked Paul Wells at the Water Board, and he explained:

“When land with a water right is subdivided, the new owners are responsible for contacting the State Water Board to inform us of the ownership change. Additional information on filing a change of ownership may be found on the following webpage:


For administrative purposes, we have one primary contact for each water right. If the land is subdivided, the additional owners should contact our office to record that they are now co-owners under the right.

There is also the option of splitting the right into two or more rights. Each part would then be treated as an individual water right.”

That’s good news if you want to keep your part of the water right!  This comes with a big caution – the Water Board will consider whether a permitted or licensed right has been used within the last 5 years.  If not, it is possible the Board may consider the right to have expired…although it is not automatic.  Also, if one person has been paying the costs associated with the water right, both physical maintenance and Board fees, as well as filing all the paperwork (now online forms), that person may contest a subdivision of the water right.  The decision is in the hands of the Water Board.

This is much the same as a water right described in a Superior Court decree.  If Ex_2_Williamson_Parcel_Outline_on_DecreeMap_reducedthe right is areal and is a certain flow or volume on certain acreage, then it is usually proportioned by acreage for subdivided parcels.  There are exceptions – if the rights are apportioned differently by written agreement, then this may be accepted by a judge later if a case comes before the court.  If the resultant parcels are too small, then state watermaster areas will give the tiny rights to larger parcels.  For example, at the Department of Water Resources, the minimum right is 0.005 cfs, unless a tiny piece added to one or more other pieces sums to 0.005 cfs.

As always, it pays to do your research before bringing this up with Water Board staff or your neighbor.  On the one hand, you don’t want to waste your time and money only to find out your property was never part of the place of use described in a permit or license.  On the other hand, if your property should have a right, you want to make your claim clear and then approach your neighbor(s) politely with plenty of evidence.  Having a right doesn’t mean someone else won’t take action before the Water Board or in court, costing you time and money even if you are right.  So, prepare your paperwork, maps, photos, and calculations ahead of time.

I hope you got some of the rain we have had at our place the last couple of days.  That’s enough for now, have a good night everyone!

What Does A Water Rights Report Look Like?

Williamson_Parcel_Outline_on_DecreeMap_reducedIn December 2015, I told the story of the Williamsons, owners of property near Cow Creek in Shasta County.  They wanted to know what their water right is.  After talking with neighbors, they decided their best option was to work with Rights To Water Engineering.  In a short time, and at a relatively low cost, they had a report explaining their water right, how much of their property it covers, where the diversion is, and other important information from South Cow Creek Decree No. 38577.



So, what does their report look like?  Most of it is shown in the posts above, but the report is not.  Click here to see the whole 14-page Shawn_Profile_Barn_Light_Circlereport.  Now you know what to expect to see in your water rights report!

How is a person supposed to figure out his or her water right, certify a measurement device, measure the diverted flow, and report it to the Water Board?  That is what I do for a living: help you get rid of headaches, upset, and trouble, to comply with State law, make sure you know your water right, and measure and report your diversions.  The phone call is free to discuss your needs,  (530) 526-0134, and email is also free at RightsToWaterEng1@gmail.com.

Arnold and Eileen Williamson Report 20151224_01

Arnold and Eileen Memo 20151222_02

Arnold and Eileen Memo 20151222_03




How Do I …. ? (Determine My Water Rights, Measure Flows, Report Flows , Etc.)

See the new “How Do I … ?” link on the left.  There are so many posts on this blog, it is getting harder to find stuff.  Click on the link, or right-click then “Open link in new tab”, and the big questions are linked to the appropriate blog posts.

Another way to search is, as always, Google.  For example, googling “allwaterrights measure weir” brings up the following results:


Tehama County Association of Realtors Water Rights Talk

Tehama County Association of Realtors Office. Photo Credit: google.com

The Tehama County Association of Realtors graciously had me come speak this morning.  I enjoy public speaking, including spreading the word on water rights and flow measurement.  The TCAOR are a friendly and intelligent bunch.

In an earlier post, I had briefly listed the types of water rights, with short descriptions.  That list came from a 10-page document that Watermaster Kevin Taylor and I developed for a Northern California Assessors continuing education presentation.  We had not been able to find a comprehensive list small enough to hand out, and with enough information to actually understand the subject.  I mentioned the 10-pager during my talk this morning, and since I did not have them printed I directed folks here.  DWR handed that document out freely, but we did not put it online – so here it is:

 What_Kinds_Of_Water_Rights_Are_There_NorCal Assessors_Prsnt_20131113.pdf

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How Do I Comply With Water Board Regulations? Part 3

In Part 2, How Do I Comply With Water Board Regulations? Part 2, we considered the question:  Who has to have a certified, accurate device by January 1, 2017? How often is it monitored?  The answer is, those who divert 1,000 acre-feet (AF) per year or more, and it has to be monitored hourly.  Shawn_pointing_with_ruleWhat size diversion is this, really?  An irrigation diversion of 1,000 AF over 6 months, with flows starting at 100% of the water right, declining to 50% of the right by the end of the season (month 6) would calculate out to a water right of 3.68 cubic feet per second (cfs), or about 3.7 to 4.0 cfs (cfs).  Depending on where you are, that irrigates somewhere between 80 and 400 acres of hay or pasture.

In this post, I’ll answer 2 questions:

  1. What if your water right is smaller than 3.7 cfs, diverting 100 AF to 1,000 AF per year?
  2. A BIG question right now: What is “alternative compliance”, and how might it be done to meet the Water Board’s regulations?

Shawn_pointing_at_orificeTo answer the first question, the next category down is 100 AF to 1,000 AF per year.  Using the example of a 6-month irrigation season, with a diversion that starts at 100% of the water right and gradually declines to 50%, the water right we’re talking about is about 0.37 to 3.7 contracted_weircfs.  This category does not have to comply as quickly – the deadline is July 1, 2017, or nearly a year from now.  The measurement frequency is daily, which is possible to be done by a diligent person, if not not recorded automatically.  For a sense of how much water this is, depending on where you are, what the soils are like, and how efficient the diversion is, the acreage of hay or pasture irrigated ranges from about 8 to 370 acres.

What kind of measurement devices would meet the regulations?  The same types that we discussed in Part 2, but ranging down to smaller sizes:

  • weirs as little as 0.5′ (0.5 feet, or 6″) wide, or wider with boards cut to make contracted weirs
  • free-flowing orifices with holes down to 0.16 x 0.16′ (2″ x 2″) square and a piece of steel plate to adjust it smaller
  • submerged orifices down to 0.25′ x 0.25′ (3″ x 3″) with an adjustment plate.
  • small flumes and meters

The photos above show smaller-sized devices than the 4′ weirs shown in earlier posts.

The second, and these days much BIGGER question, what about alternative compliance?  The Water Board requires submission of alternative compliance plans on a form that is not yet available.  If it were my diversion, I would not worry about tWaterBoard_Meas_AlterComp_Para - Editedhat; I would put together my plan and send it in.  The old rule applies that if you are not sure who to send it to, send it to several managers and maybe a Deputy Director.  Emailing documents is cheaper; most computers will let you print to PDFs that can be emailed.  Your submittal probably will not be accepted this way but the point is, the Water Board cannot say that you have not attempted to comply.  Not complying at all can be very expensive; “Do something wrong, instead of nothing at all.”


SOU_alternative_methods - EditedThis screenshot is from an OLD, no longer valid Statement Of Use form, but it
gives some ideas of what options for alternative compliance the Water Board has in mind.

What has to be in your alternative compliance plan?  From the Water Board’s ADOPTED TEXT OF EMERGENCY REGULATION, the text gives 12 parts that must be in the plan (below).  The plan may be rejected – having a plan (instead of a standard, certified measurement device) is no guarantee that the Board will accept it.  In summary, the plan must detail contacts for all people on a ditch, Assessor Parcel Numbers, the water right(s), priority(ies), use(s), diversion(s), ditch(es) and/or pipe(s), measurement frequency and methods, dates for milestones and completion, permits required, financing plan, and map(s) showing the plan area including all physical features and place of use…and all of this must be signed by all water right holders on the ditch (the emphasized text in the bullet points is mine):

“…………  §935 Alternative Compliance for a Measuring Device or Measurement Method Requirement.

(a) Alternative Compliance – Generally. In circumstances where strict compliance with sections 933 or 934 of this title is not feasible, would be unreasonably expensive, would unreasonably affect public trust uses, or would result in the waste or unreasonable use of water, a diverter may submit an alternative compliance plan.

(b) Minimum Standards – an alternative compliance plan under subdivision (a) shall meet the following minimum standards:

(1) The plan shall include the following information:

(A) The name and contact information for all diverters covered by the plan;
(B) The name and contact information for the person designated to represent all diverters covered by the plan in matters before the board;
(C) Identification of each individual water right type and priority covered by the plan;
(D) A detailed description of the area served by the plan, including all points of diversion whether used or not used, all methods of diversion, any conveyance systems, all beneficial uses of water, and all acreage served;
(E) The assessor’s parcel numbers and ownership within the area covered by the plan;
(F) Identification of the proposed measurement frequency;
(G) Identification of the proposed measurement methodology;
(H) Topographic map(s) or aerial photograph(s) of the area covered by the plan that show the separate places of use authorized to be served by claimed water rights covered by the plan and showing the acreage served;
(I) An implementation schedule, including date-specific, objective milestones of plan implementation from date of filing through final implementation, including the estimated milestones for acquiring permits required for plan implementation and the estimated milestones for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, if required;
(J) Budget for implementation of the plan and the source(s) of financing for the plan;
(K) A list of any permits required for plan implementation, the agencies that will issue the permits, and expected dates for issuance;
An affirmation, signed by all diverters covered by the plan, that the plan will be implemented in accordance with the schedule contained therein and that all claimed water rights covered by the plan will not be exercised outside the scope of the plan  …………”