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.

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Can a water right be lost?

This is a question that comes up all over California, every day.  It usually comes in one Headgate on streamof two ways:

  1. I’m about to buy some land.  Will I have a water right if the previous owner did not use it for X years ?
  2. My neighbor hasn’t used his right in X years.  He lost it, so I can use it, right?

The short answer is yes, an appropriative, post-1914 water right can be lost.  Court-decreed water rights, riparian rights, and pre-1914 cannot be lost – usually.  We’ll discuss those cases later in the post.  What most people are thinking of is the provision from WATER CODE SECTION 1240-1244:

1241.  If the person entitled to the use of water fails to use beneficially all or any part of the water claimed by him or her, for which a right of use has vested, for the purpose for which it was appropriated or adjudicated, for a period of five years, that unused water may revert to the public and shall, if reverted, be regarded as unappropriated public water. That reversion shall occur upon a finding by the board following notice to the permittee, licensee, or person holding a livestock stockpond certificate or small domestic use, small irrigation use, or livestock stockpond use registration under this part and a public hearing if requested by the permittee, licensee, certificate holder, or registration holder.

Diversion box to field“Board” means the  State Water Resources Control Board.  The emphasis on “may” and “if” is mine, and it is important.  Loss of a water right under this provision is not automatic.  It takes a complaint by someone to get it started, just as it takes a complaint for someone to get a water rights case heard by the judge of a Superior or Federal Court.

Then, if the water right holder protests that yes, he or she has diverted water during the last 5 years, it’s up to the complainant or the Board to prove that water was not diverted.  This might be from yearly photos of the land in question (rare), testimony by several neighbors;, or a lack of records from the water right holder, showing that there was indeed a crop, pasture with cattle, hay, or some other beneficial use; or some other evidence.

Let’s consider riparian rights and then put that discussion aside.  A riparian water right cannot be lost for non-use, since it is established by the Constitution of the State of California.  Riparian rights are not being considered here, and they are discussed in greater detail in the post Riparian Rules by Chuck Rich.

How does someone know that their water right may be on the chopping block?  They will have already had phone calls and probably visits from Board staff.  There should be no surprise at this point.  Then, the Board will send a letter that starts something like this:

Notice_proposed_revocation

There is an opportunity to dispute the assertions in the letter, and a water right holder can request a hearing (or hearings) before the Board.  If the alleged non-use is not a watertight case, the process can take a year or longer.

What if the water is a pre-1914 water right?  Can it be lost?  The answer used to be a fairly solid “no”, but the Board’s authority has increased in recent years.  It is harder to lose a pre-1914 right but the best defense is having used it at least once in the past five years, and having some proof it was used.

Diversion box from diversion

What if the water right is part of a  State Superior Court  or  Federal District Court  decree* or adjudication?  Interestingly, very few decrees have ANY provision for expiration of water rights.  In addition, courts usually maintain jurisdiction of these cases, so that any following petitions or lawsuits over decreed water rights must go back to court.  In essence, this makes decreed rights “eternal” or permanent, unless the rights are changed in a subsequent lawsuit.  *Statutory adjudications where the Board issued an Order of Determination, and then took it to the Superior Court to be adjudicated, might be easier for the Board to bring before the court for a revocation action.

What does the Water Board think about that?  Board staff assert that they have “concurrent authority” with State Superior Courts.  That means they have equal power over water rights.

Credit: Pixabay
Courthouse.  Photo Credit: Pixabay

Some at the Board say they have authority over the same water rights that the court does.  Is that true?

Let’s say that it is true.  Has the Board ever asserted its authority over decreed water rights in court?  The last few times I asked Board staff, the answer was “no”.  So it may be true, but as far as I have heard, it has not been tested.  So, no, decreed rights cannot be revoked by the Board without going to court.

What if a water right is managed by a water district, irrigation district, or other agency?  It boils down to, who owns the water rights?  If the district or agency owns them, then they can usually reassign them because of non-payment, and for some other reasons, too.  If the landowners own the water rights, then all the preceding paragraphs of this post apply.  The agency or district just wheels the water, for which they can collect fees for operation (labor) and maintenance if their bylaws allow.

Summarizing the subject of losing post-1914 appropriative water rights for five years of non-use, then, they can be lost if the water right holder admits it, or if there is good evidence that water has not been used.  Pre-1914 rights are harder to lose but it can happen.  The Board cannot revoke riparian rights because they are defined in the State Constitution.  Court-decreed rights cannot be revoked by the Board without going to the court with a petition or as part of a lawsuit.

[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.

Alternative Compliance Plans – First Batch Is Online

Many people have asked about Alternative Compliance Plans filed with the Water Board.  Have any been approved?  Do I have any feedback regarding the ones I filed?  What will work, and what won’t?

In short, I have heard nothing from the Water Board, so I have no answers.  However, the Water Board has started posting them online.  See the screenshot below – I erased the water right holders’ names, you can see them and download them at the web page.

Water Board Letters, Reducing Or Denying Additional Time / Alt. Comply Plans Being Reviewed

Many diverters or pond owners are getting letters like the one shown below, reducing or denying a Request For Additional Time.  The letter looks threatening, because that is how letters from regulatory agencies (bureaucracies) have to look.  Keep in mind that the Water Board won’t start issuing fines the day after the deadline.  Usually what happens next is a 30-day letter to cease and desist, or correct a deficiency, or face fines of $500 per day.

What should you do?

On August 10, 2017, I sent Kathy an email asking about Alternative Compliance Plans for diversions in closed basins:

“Hi Kathy,

I have a client whose water rights are all in one closed basin.  This owner owns all the lands where the water flows, either naturally, or when diverted from streams.  The end effect is, whether the diverter actually diverts or not, all the water ends up only on his land.

There are reservoirs involved.  The water rights could be in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 AF.

The argument is, since nobody else is or could be affected, there is no benefit to the State of measuring this water.

What are your thoughts on Alternative Compliance Plan for every water right on the ranch?  Would the Water Board put this on the bottom of the pile for places to look at, or toward the top?

Thank you,

Shawn”

Kathy’s answer was:

“Hi Shawn –

The measurement regulation does not have an exception from measurement based on location of the water source.  Any alternative compliance plan would need to identify the proposed measurement frequency and proposed measurement methodology.  It would also need to include an explanation and substantiating documentation of alternative compliance.  Absent substantiation of the specific basis for reduced performance standards, the plan must state how compliance with the measurement regulation will be achieved.  You ask for my thoughts on submitting an alternative compliance plan for each of the ranch water rights.  You should only submit plans which satisfy the regulatory standards. 

You ask whether the Division would put this on the bottom of the pile of items to look at.  Jeff and I have been actively looking at the alternative compliance plans submitted thus far.  We coordinate our actions with Lily.  We are actively evaluating the plans because we feel an obligation to let people know how they have done with their proposals. 

Kathy Mrowka”

Late 2015 Filers to Water Board Down to 2,000 from 3,000 Aug. 25

Please let your neighbors know if any of them are on the list!  The list of late 2015 diverters is shrinking, that’s good news; 20160908_swrcb_late_filers-edited fines are $500/day.  2,000 names are left, 2/3 of the original 3,000 listed.  The link to the current “deficiency list” is here, from the Water Board‘s water use webpage.

Fewer Late 2015 Filers to Water Board! Down from 46, to 36 Pages of Names

Looks like the word is getting out, thankfully.  The list of 2015 diverters who are late in filing their monthly diversions for last year, is reduced from 46 to 36 pages!  That’s about 720 names off the list, only 2,480 to go.  The link to the current “deficiency list” is here, from the Water Board‘s water use webpage:

SWRCB_Late_2015_Filers - Edited