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Watermaster’s Delta Diversion Probe Finds Most Have Riparian Water Rights

March and April 2012

The State Water Resources Control Board Delta Watermaster reported to the Delta Stewardship Council recently that most Delta water diversions by adjacent landowners are legal.

After examining more than 1,000 parcels of land in the southern area of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for illegal water diversions, the Delta Watermaster found that most water diverters in the study area have riparian water rights.

A riparian water right (or simply “riparian right”) is part of a centuries-old legal system for allocating water among those who possess land that physically touches a river, stream, pond, or lake. Under the riparian principle, all landowners whose property adjoins a body of water have the right to make use of that water.

The State Water Resources Control Board is required by law to give regular updates to the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) on water rights administration, water quality issues and conveyance operations.

“One of my main responsibilities is to provide more certainty in the Delta by taking vigorous action to prevent unlawful diversions,” Delta Water Master Craig Wilson told the Council at their March 13 meeting. “There is not enough water in the system to meet all demands, so the challenge to most agencies, including yours, is to try to balance the demand.”

Wilson told the Council in 2011 that all water diverters would be required to measure and report diversions starting in 2012, and that he and his staff were working hard to reach out to diverters and water districts to obtain this information.

The next Delta Watermaster update to the Delta Stewardship Council will be provided it fall 2012, and will focus on the larger Delta watershed and diversions of stored water.

To see the latest Watermaster’s report, “Water Right Compliance and Enforcement in the Delta,” click here.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)