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Board adopts reporting rules for water rights

Issue Date: January 27, 2016
By Kate Campbell
Speaking before the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley, left, outlines challenges farmers and ranchers will face as they try to implement new measurement requirements for water diversions.
Photo/Kate Campbell

Despite concerns voiced by agricultural organizations that the requirement will be impractical, water right holders in California will face new rules for measuring and reporting their diversions beginning next year.

The State Water Resources Control Board adopted emergency regulations last week requiring all surface water right holders and claimants who divert 10 acre-feet or more a year to electronically report their diversions annually. That means everyone from rural homeowners to small farmers to large water districts to the federal government will need to install metering devices or use approved measurement methods at points of diversion, and report data electronically to the state.

Under Senate Bill 88, a drought-related trailer bill approved last year, the flow-metering requirement applies to those who divert water under pre-1914 and riparian water rights, as well as for those holding licenses, permits and registrations. That includes diversions for small domestic and irrigation purposes and for stock water.

Previously, pre-1914 and riparian right holders were required to report only every three years, and measurement requirements could be avoided if the right holder deemed them not locally cost effective. Officials said that will not be the case in the future.

Ranchers from Shasta County stressed to the board at its meeting in Sacramento that gathering data from equipment installed at remote, snow-covered diversion points will prove difficult to impossible, depending on conditions. In addition, small farmers and ranchers expressed concern about the cost of installing and hiring experts to main required levels of equipment accuracy.

Elizabeth Ponce, first vice president of the Shasta County Farm Bureau, told the board that farmers and ranchers "are worried about the burden of the monitoring and the expense of the monitoring."

The regulations apply to about 12,000 water right holders and claimants statewide, and require flow measurement devices at points of diversion. Equipment installation requirements will be phased in, the board said, using a tiered approach based on size of diversion.

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley told the board that Farm Bureau believes the 10 acre-foot reporting threshold is unreasonably low, noting that depending on the crops grown, a 3-acre farm would have difficulty getting by on less than 10 acre-feet of water.

"We believe the board may have overestimated the feasibility of compliance for thousands of small diverters," Merkley said, while acknowledging the board's interest in collecting timely and accurate water supply data.

"Those who can least afford it will be the most seriously impacted by these regulations," Merkley said, adding the information will be after diversions have taken place, which will provide "rear-view mirror data."

In a joint letter, Farm Bureau and the Wine Institute asked the board to consider the "practical implications of the regulatory changes, along with the pressures those changes put on smaller operations."

The new regulations allow a diverter to request additional time to comply with the provisions, if the diverter can show good cause. A form will be available on the board's website, officials said, with decisions to grant requests to be made by the deputy director of the board's Division of Water Rights.

In adopting the new regulations, water board Chair Felicia Marcus said knowing where, when and how much water is being used "is essential to managing the system fairly for all." The state's extended drought has highlighted the need for more accurate, timely information, she said.

"We've historically not had a complete picture, and these past two years have made it even more essential to take this common-sense move," Marcus said, calling the data generated by the reporting requirement critical to ensuring priority water needs are met, water right holders are informed of water availability and adequate flows remain instream for more senior downstream beneficial uses.

In commenting on the regulations, agricultural organizations questioned whether the value of the data would be worth the cost to individuals to generate it, adding that the regulations appeared not to consider the practical, on-the-ground logistics of complying.

Large water diverters with a claimed right to take 1,000 acre-feet or more per year must have a measuring device or method capable of recording at least hourly in place by Jan. 1, 2017. Water right holders diverting 100 acre-feet or more must comply by July 1, 2017, and record at least daily. Those with claimed rights to divert more than 10 acre-feet must comply by Jan. 1, 2018, and record at least weekly.

All diverters, regardless of size, are required to report their monthly diversions on an annual basis. The regulations also allow the state water board to require more frequent reporting when available water supplies are determined insufficient to serve all water right holders in a watershed or necessary to protect the environment.

Failure to comply with the regulations is a violation subject to civil liability of up to $500 per day under the Water Code.

The text of the new emergency regulation may be seen online at

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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