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State Water Board: Water Quality Programs

State Water Board - Cannabis Cultivation Water Rights

On June 27, 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed Senate Bill (SB) 837, which requires the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), in consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), to adopt interim and long-term principles and guidelines (requirements) for the diversion and use of water for cannabis cultivation in areas where cannabis cultivation may have the potential to substantially affect instream flows. Principles and guidelines will be incorporated into licenses issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture under its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, and water right registrations will be issued under the State Water Board's Small Irrigation Use Registration Program, once available.

Principles and Guidelines (Requirements) for Cannabis Cultivation

The State Water Board is developing a policy for water quality control (policy) to establish interim principles and guidelines for cannabis cultivation. The principles and guidelines shall include measures to protect springs, wetlands, and aquatic habitats from negative impacts of cannabis cultivation. Principles and guidelines may include instream flow objectives, limits on diversions, and requirements for screening of diversions and elimination of barriers to fish passage. The principles and guidelines may include requirements that apply to groundwater extractions.

The draft policy is anticipated to be released for public comment in May of 2017, and the final policy is anticipated to be brought to the State Water Board for adoption in October of 2017. At this time the focus is on the development of interim principles and guidelines. The State Water Board may update interim principles and guidelines as reasonably necessary, pending development of long-term principles and guidelines.

Potential principles and guidelines include minimum instream flows, forbearance periods, offstream storage requirements, riparian buffers, maximum diversion rates, irrigation conservation measures, and other best management practices. Minimum instream flows and the forbearance periods help maintain natural flow variability and minimize the effects of cannabis cultivation on fisheries and wildlife by protecting water quantity during critical life stages. The riparian buffers, best management practices, and other operational guidelines help maintain healthy riparian corridors and minimize the water quality impacts resulting from cannabis cultivation.

Water Rights Registration Programs

The State Water Board currently has two water right registration programs that provide appropriative water rights for smaller diversions (less than 20 acre-feet) of water associated with irrigation or domestic use. The State Water Board also has a Livestock Stockpond Use Registration Program, which does not relate to the use of water for cannabis cultivation. These two registration programs that relate to domestic and irrigation use are outlined further below.

Small Irrigation Use Registration Program. (only available to limited geographic area)
The Small Irrigation Use Registration Program is currently in a limited area of the North Coast that includes Marin County, Sonoma County, and portions of Napa, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties (map of area). To address off-stream storage needs for cannabis cultivation in other parts of the state the State Water Board is planning to develop general terms and conditions for the Small Irrigation Use Registration Program that can be applied statewide. It is anticipated that the general terms and conditions will incorporate the principles and guidelines.

Small Domestic Registration Program. (not for commercial cannabis cultivation)

The existing Small Domestic Use Registration Program is not applicable to commercial cannabis irrigation and its applicability to cannabis cultivation for personal use is determined on a case-by-case basis.


Coordinating Agencies

Related Water Boards Programs

Related Resources

State Water Board Contact Information & Email Subscription

For more information about this effort, please contact us by email at:


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