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

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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.

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.

California Water Rights Are Complicated! Can’t They Be Easier?

California water rights are complicated, which you already know if you have spent an hour trying to figure them out.  From the November 2015 post Water Rights – Why Do They Exist? Which Kinds Are There?, here is the summary list of types:

  1. Riparian – a parcel that touches a stream, spring or lake may use a ” reasonable and beneficial” amount, quantity and rate undefined, per the California Constitution, Article X, Section 2
  2. Rancho rights granted by the government of Spain or Mexico, prior to Statehood in 1850
  3. Pueblo rights, the one belonging to Los Angeles being famous
  4. Appropriative in 1913 and prior, aka “pre-1914”, for parcels not touching a body of water, which started with gold mining and is now mostly for agriculture
  5. Appropriative post-1914, issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board)
  6. Adjudicated, or decreed, from Federal District or State Superior Court
  7. Groundwater from a well, similar to surface water riparian but for the overlying land
  8. Prescriptive, which isn’t a definite right until decreed by a court
  9. Contracts, which are not rights but rely on some already-existing right
Photo Credit: morguefile.com

From conversations with a reliable source, I found out that the Water Board made two runs at standardizing water rights in past decades.  Water right holders would have had 20 years to prove their rights, then all of them would have been rolled into one class or type of water right.  There would still be dates of first use, priorities, and so on, but the Water Board would have authority over all of the rights.

So what happened?  It didn’t work.  The leaders of a large water organization contacted their legislators and said, “Hey, this standardization process might affect our rights.  We don’t want that, so please yank the Water Board’s funding for this effort.”  And that was that, and perhaps that was best for most water right holders in the state.

Besides that, the Water Board has tried a few times to cancel riparian water rights, as part of adjudications of all water rights in a watershed.  The resulting lawsuits undid the Water Board’s actions, and riparian water rights are still the law today.

eWRIMS Board Water Rights Search – Part 3

This is the third part of the discussion of the Water Board‘s Electronic Water Rights Information Management System – eWRIMS.  In eWRIMS Board Water Rights Search – Part 2,  we looked at how to search by Water Right type, Status, ID, County, etc., and most relevant for finding your own, by Primary Owner.  Let’s search by Primary Owner “Metropolitan”:eWRIMS_search_dialog_Met - Edited 2

The results we get are all the names with the word “Metropolitan” in them, and first on the list are the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California:eWRIMS_search_results_Owner_Met - Edited

We’ll scroll down the page until we get to Application Number A006406.  By the way, if you have a Permit or License, or you are looking for one, that Application Number is important.  It is the unique identifier for these documents, sort of like the Assessors Parcel Number is the true unique identifier for your property for tax purposes.  A006406 is for an Appropriative Permit for with a face value of 1,085,950 acre-feet.  If we click on the number A006406 in the left column, we get this summary:Permit_Summary - Edited 2

The summary doesn’t have that much more useful information – what we really want to do is go look at the original document.  Click on the “View Permit” text in the upper left-hand corner.  Now you get to see a scan of the permit.  You can see that document by clicking here:  a006406  The first page of the permit is shown here.  And this is the information you want to see for your application, permit, or license, the actual face value, purpose, place of use, and so on.

Permit_7641_firstpage - Edited

In the same way, we can view and download Statements Of Use (SOU).  Clicking through the Summary is a little different – we scroll down the page and then pick the statement for the year we want.  Here is the summary for SOUs for one of the City of Santa Barbara’s Permits:SB_SOU_Sum - Edited

Clicking on the year 2015 brings up the following report, showing that under this Permit, Santa Barbara diverted a total of 287.8 acre-feet last year:

Santa_Barbara_SOU - Edited

That’s how we use eWRIMS to search for information on water rights and Statements Of Use.  Remember, many thousands of adjudicated and riparian rights, and some pre-1914 rights, are not in the database.  What do we do if we think there is a water right, and we’re not sure where the information is?

  1. Start with eWRIMS, and call the Water Board if the database answer is inconclusive.  You may have to call several times, these folks are way too busy.
  2. Call the Watermaster if it is an adjudicated water right under watermaster service.  Even if the right is under a decree with no Watermaster, whoever you call probably has a good idea of who to call next to find out.  Google the county and name of the stream to see if one of the first five or so results brings up a Watermaster’s name or phone number.
  3. Call the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where the water right is.  Ask if they have a searchable index of some kind that would give you a Case Number for an adjudication.  Some counties even have old water rights books where you can search for a pre-1914 recording of a right.

That’s plenty for now.  Have a great weekend!

eWRIMS Board Water Rights Search – Part 2

In Part 1 of this discussion, we looked at the different types of water rights included in the Water Board’s eWRIMS water rights search Water_Board_eWRIMS_screenshotdatabase.  Now we’ll talk about how to narrow down your search to find just the water rights of interest.  The majority of questions people have are about their own water rights.  How can you find out what eWRIMS has about your water right?

If you pick the eWRIMS Database System link, and hit the “Accept” button at the bottom of the next page, you’ll arrive at at the Water Rights Records Search pageWater Rights Records Search screenshot - Edited.  This looks like a data entry form, and allows you to search by water right type, status, ID, county, etc., and most relevant for finding your own, by Primary Owner.  Whoops!  I sure thought it was – it is now disabled.    Maybe that’s temporary, but even a couple of weeks ago I was able to put in “California”, for example, and find the rights held by State agencies.  As a matter of fact, none of the searches I am trying right now even list any results in the “Holder Name column.

UPDATE:  Search by Primary Owner is working again as of June 29, 2016 at 8:30 A.M.  Thanks, eWRIMS folks for restoring it!

Next, try your County, Source (River name or Source Name), Entity Type, and Hayfork Creek Trinityany other information that you know.  This will give you a list of results.  For example, entering Trinity for County and Hayfork Creek for Source yields 31 results.  Without the “Holder Name” listed it is tough to tell which one is yours…unless you also know one of your IDs.  If that functionality is restored that it makes it easy.  One CAVEAT – if you or the previous owner have not updated the current owner (as the Board requires), then the person’s name will be some previous owner.  You’ll likely recognize it.

eWRIMS GIS Hayfork - EditedIf “you can’t get there from here”, then you can search by map, in the eWRIMS Web Mapping Application (GIS).  The map starts by showing all of California and you zoom in to your area.  When you zoom in far enough, you’ll see rectangular labels of various colors start to appear.  You can click on these to see the individual Application, Permit, License, or Statement of Use.  The screenshot above shows part of Hayfork Creek in Trinity County.

If you have not used eWRIMS, try it out for your and your neighbors’ water rights.  Remember, most riparian and nearly all adjudicated water rights will NOT show up here, but pre-1914, post-1914, some riparian, and some other rights will.  Next time we’ll talk about some of the information you can find on forms for the various rights and statements.

For now, happy water rights searching!

Save Water? Ask Savers…And Depend On Capitalism

Faucet_Pixabay_water-1239368_1280
Pixabay, public domain

Do you think of Florida as short on water?  I sure didn’t; I have been there a couple of times and got rained on every day or two.  However, a University of Florida study on saving water concludes that if more conservation is needed, it’ll be easiest to get from those who already use less water.  That study is summarized in this short article.

On the opposite coast, what does that mean for California?  It means that voluntary conservation seems most likely to come from those who are reportedly conserving the most:  farms and communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and agencies and homeowners in the Los Angeles Basin.

1024px-USACE_Black_Butte_Dam_and_Lake
Black Butte Lake, Wikipedia

Does that mean that water districts and diverters in Northern California do not conserve?  There may be less conservation, especially if diverters have a reservoir.  Winter and spring flows are stored for later use.  Those flows would have gone to a a river and usually, out to the Pacific Ocean.  We’ll leave out the discussion of environmental uses of instream or stored surface water, except to say that they are one possible kind of use.  There are usually some senior water right holders who have first call to the water, or who get a higher percentage during a drought.

How about irrigators who have little or no water storage?  Since they depend on natural flows, droughts mean there is less flow available.  It’s not voluntary, but the diverters share the losses, either

FloodedField_Pixabay_nature-1252579_1280
Pixabay, public domain

with lower priority water right holders  shutting off first, or everyone taking a cut if everyone has the same priority.

The photo on the left shows flood-irrigation, which is the least efficient method and raises the hackles of downstream diverters, or just about anyone south of the Delta.  Flooding allows less productive land in California’s mountainous areas, often with shorter growing seasons, to be used to for pasture to raise cattle and other livestock, or for hay which might be used anywhere in the Western U.S.

3inPipePasture_Pixabay_spraying-294628_1280
Pixabay, public domain

Even though not required, flood irrigation is being replaced over time with more efficient methods.  Ranchers and farmers want to make scarce water stretch farther and irrigate more acres than flooding would allow.  Land is being leveled right now to make

SprinklerPasture_Pixabay_water-340468_1280
Pixabay, public domain

flooding go further.  Sprinklers are increasingly used, so that less is diverted in the first place.  Plain capitalism makes upgrades economical for the long-term.  This isn’t an instant result, like voluntary conservation brings, but more water is available for instream and downstream uses every year.

These irrigation improvements are part of the reason that the State Legislators, Governors, and the State Water Resources Control Board have been careful about what laws to impose in the

WheelLine_Pixabay_irrigation-403371_1280
Pixabay, public domain

upper watersheds.  Many of the rights in the upper Sacramento River Basin are defined in Superior Court Decrees, and so are senior rights.  However, the State has and still can make laws that reach back and change the rights in these old decrees.  Many of you diverters on these streams have continually explained to politicians and bureaucrats that suddenly modifying or qualifying water rights can wipe out billions of dollars of agricultural production overnight.

So, yes, the fastest voluntary conservation will be had in the southern two-thirds of the state.  And a lot of senior water right holders up where rain and snow fall, in the northern third of the State, may be experiencing the same or even greater percentage of involuntary reductions in diversions at the same time.  “One size fits all” conservation may still not be equitable.

That’s enough on this for today.  Let’s hope and pray that precipitation is higher than forecasts next winter!