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On Water Rights Enforcement Workshop vs. Conservation

Dear Water folk:

Please read the note attached below from Trout Unlimited (Brian Johnson) regarding the Water Rights Enforcement workshop. The SWRCB is considering if, how and under what conditions it will enforce water rights and unlawful diversions, as required under AB2121, and is seeking public input.

Friends of the Eel River is vitally interested in how this works out.

At the very least, failure to enforce water rights and failure to prevent unlawful diversion of water in the Russian River basin directly affects not only the conditions and health of the Russian River, but also the perceived or politically declared “needs” for continued or increased diversions from the Eel River through the Potter Valley Project, as well as for more local groundwater pumping. Anything that can be done to reduce the demands on the Russian River and reduce the unlawful diversions concurrently helps us on our path to recovering the Eel River’s water and fisheries and also reduces demands for more groundwater. Our efforts, of course, support the drive to have the water engineering and political communities learn to live within the water they have in their own watersheds, rather than continually ramping up demands for diversions and transfers.

The upcoming SWRCB workshop is scheduled for June 6, in response to the (already granted) SCWA petition for reduced flows this summer in the Russian R. The intent is to ‘bank’ unused water in L. Mendocino for release as higher flows later in the year for migrating chinook in the Russian R.

It is extremely disturbing and ironic that these 2 workshops are happening this month. It is disturbing, in that SWRCB has granted the urgency low flow petition to SCWA, yet has taken NO actions to reduce unlawful diversions upstream which directly affect the remaining flows this summer. In addition, there were no orders for mandatory conservation for any upstream users, water agencies or irrigation districts.

In essence, the releases of water stored in Lake Mendocino was viewed as the only variable to be regulated here.

“6.2 No Injury to Any Other Lawful User of Water
The SCWA is required to maintain specific flows at various locations in the Russian River from its most upstream point of diversion to the river’s confluence with the ocean. Therefore, SCWA must compensate for the diversion of water by both lawful and unlawful water users. It is anticipated that all of the SCWA water contractors and other legal users of water will receive the water to which they are entitled during the reduced flows specified in this Order.”

SWRCB Workshop
June 5, 2007, after 11.00am,
Cal-EPA Bldg, 1001 I St., Sacramento
Regarding Permits 12947A, 12949, 12950, 16596 – Reduction of instream flow requirements for the Russian River, May 1- Oct. 28, 2007:
http://www.waterrights.ca.gov/application/TempUrg/docs/12919a_workshop_pn.pdf (SWRCB notice of public workshop, with location map)
http://www.waterrights.ca.gov/application/TempUrg/docs/12919a_notice.pdf (SWRCB notice/background)
http://www.waterrights.ca.gov/application/TempUrg/docs/12919a_order.pdf (SWRCB order granting petition)

The irony here is that the information that will be developed in the workshop to discuss the water rights enforcement policies should have come before the urgency petition was heard and granted. In my thinking, if SWRCB was compelling compliance with legal permit terms and enforcing removal of unlawful diversions, the flows and fisheries in the Russian River and its tributaries would be much better than they are, and the downstream users would not be bearing the brunt of the low flow regime.

Further, the short and long term pressures on the Eel River for diversions at PVP would be reduced.

Please plan to attend both hearings: the public needs to have their voice at the table, not just the water agencies and county supervisors.

David Keller

Bay Area Director
Friends of the Eel River
1327 I St.
Petaluma, CA 94952
(707) 763-9336

Brian Johnson wrote:


As you probably know, the SWRCB is hosting a workshop on its potential water right enforcement policy on June 19. Comments are due on June 6.


As the notice states, the motivation to develop a water right enforcement policy comes from AB 2121 (Kuehl) enacted in 2004. Trout Unlimited was the primary champion of this bill and to the extent any of you are planning comments I would love to talk with you. It would be great to have a host of NGO comments, even if it’s only to answer the first two questions posed in the affirmative. (“Should there be a water rights enforcement policy” in the AB 2121 area and/or statewide?) If you have not been planning comments but might consider signing on to others’, let me know.

Background: AB 2121 requires the State Board to adopt a policy for maintaining instream flows as it administers water rights in the area between San Francisco Bay and the Mattole River, by the end of this year. It authorizes the Board to adopt such a policy elsewhere. The AB 2121 policy is due a the end of the year, and everyone has been assuming it will include an enforcement element. While the policy has been in development (there is not yet a draft) SWRCB staff have been considering whether there should also be a statewide water right enforcement policy. At the same time, many water users have started to push back on the notion that there would be an enforcement policy anywhere – even in the AB 2121 area. Hence, this workshop.