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Property Owners Who Divert Water Must File Statements of Use

Justine Fredickerson, The Daily Journal

Under new law, state board can impose $1,000 fee

Pumping Water from River

Under state legislation passed last year, some property owners will face hefty fines beginning this summer if they do not file statements documenting their water use, according to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

Senate Bill 8 (SBX7 8), which requires more property owners to file statements documenting their use of either stream or surface water with the state, was the first topic of discussion during a Tuesday morning workshop on water rights and responsibilities sponsored by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, the Mendocino Farm Bureau and the University of California Cooperative Extension.

“Get your ducks in a row and get your stuff together,” said Paula Whealen of Wagner & Bonsignore Engineers, a consulting firm. “There’s a lot more people checking up on things and keeping an eye on what you’re doing.”

Whealen said property owners diverting either surface water, which she described as “surface water flowing in a natural channel, generally above ground,” or subterranean stream flow, “water flowing underground in known and definite channels'” must file a Statement of Water Diversion and Use by July 1, 2010.

Also a new requirement, Whealen said, is that anyone with a “pending water right application must file a statement of their water diversion and use for each diversion point.”

Failure to do so, according to Marie Hoffman of the SWRCB, could result in a $1,000 fine. If anyone files a “willful misstatement of facts, that is a $25,000 fine,” Hoffman said, adding that the fine for an “accidental misstatement” would only be $500.

“It is absolutely to your advantage to report all your water usage,” Whealen said, explaining that it “gets you in the habit of reporting it, which I don’t think is a bad thing,” and “if your diversion is in code compliance, by reporting it, you are creating a record of that compliance.”

To enforce the new requirements, Hoffman said the SWRCB created “24 new positions (to oversee) water rights compliance and enforcements,” with eight of those positions based in Santa Rosa.

“Unfortunately, the legislation is adding to the enforcement budget while chipping away at the administrative budget,” Hoffman said, explaining that there will be fewer people on-hand to help citizens understand the new requirements or to file their reports.

“The first year, you can mail in your reports, but after that, they must be done electronically,” she said, explaining that the information can be inputed via a computer, or new types of water meters can deliver that information to the state automatically.

“A meter is your best bet for documentation and reporting, and they are more accurate than pumps,” said Whealen. “However, you are not required to do anything that is not economically feasible.”

“If your current system works and is accurate, you are not required to upgrade,” Hoffman said.

However, at least one attendee said simply requiring people to file reports via a computer in “a rural area without Broadband service” could be a hardship for some people.

“I wish paper filing was still an option, but it is not,” Hoffman said.

Click here for more information about the new requirements.