Welcome to the State Water Board's Water Rights Applications: Permitting and Licensing Program webpage. This webpage discusses the water rights permitting and licensing program. For information about water rights petitions, please visit the State Water Board's water right petitions webpage. The State Water Board's Division of Water Rights administers California's water right system. Since December 19, 1914, the Water Rights Permitting and Licensing Program has been the exclusive method for establishing an appropriative water right. However, changes to state law in 1989 created the Water Rights Registration Program for expedited acquisition of appropriative water rights for small projects. More information about the Water Rights Registration Program.

Some water rights pre-date the Water Rights Permitting and Licensing Program, so you may have a water right even if you do not have a water right permit or license. You should not assume, however, that you have a water right because you have an existing facility (dam, pipe, etc) for the diversion of water. Diversion of water without a water right is a trespass that may subject you to fines. Before submitting an application to the State Water Board, you should review the general water rights information available here and check for an existing statement of water diversion and use that may have been filed by previous property owners for your point of diversion by using eWRIMS and eWRIMS mapping system. If you have further questions, you may choose to either (1) contact the Permitting and Licensing supervisor responsible for your area or (2) contact the Division of Water Rights' at (916) 341-5300.

Acquisition of a post-1914 appropriative water right consists of two main phases: (1) Permitting and (2) Licensing. Permitting is the process of filing an application to request that the State Water Board authorize the development of a water diversion project by issuing a permit. A permit provides the legal authorization to develop the project and divert water in accordance with conditions and within a time schedule. Licensing is the process of reviewing a permitted project that is complete to confirm the amount of water put to beneficial use and that the permit conditions were met. A license is the final confirmation of the water right and remains effective as long as its conditions are met and beneficial use continues.

Announcements

This section contains links to important developments that impact the Permitting and Licensing Program. Please check this section periodically for the latest information.

This section describes the Water Rights Permitting process. Permits carefully spell out the amounts, conditions, and construction timetables for the proposed water project. Before the Board issues a permit, it must take into account all prior rights and the availability of water in the basin. The Board considers, too, the flows needed to preserve instream uses such as recreation and fish and wildlife habitat. Records of water appropriation and use statewide are maintained by the State Board's Division of Water Rights.

To obtain a permit, the prospective applicant must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective applicant reviews the information about the program to determine if their project meets the criteria of the program. A call to the State Water Board's Permitting and Licensing supervisor responsible for your area or the Division of Water Rights' general information line at (916 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Filing an Application. The process is initiated when an Application to Appropriate Water by Permit is filed by the person or other entity desiring to divert water. This application specifically describes the proposed project's source, place of use, purpose, point(s) of diversion and quantity to be diverted. The Division will not accept an application that meets either of the following criteria:
    1. The application proposes to divert water from a stream that is fully appropriated during any period within the fully appropriated season. Streams (or stream reaches) that have been declared by the State Water Board to be fully appropriated are listed on our Web page, Fully Appropriated Streams; or,
    2. The application proposes to divert or store water by means of an onstream dam on a Class I or Class II stream within the geographic area covered by the Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams.

In addition to the above considerations, prospective applicants should check if the proposed source of water is adjudicated. If your application meets any of the criteria listed here, you should contact the State Water Board Permitting and Licensing supervisor responsible for your area or the Division of Water Rights' general information line at (916 341-5300 for more information about your options.

  • Acceptance of Application. An application that is received without a filing fee, or that is not made in a bona fide attempt to conform to the rules of the State Water Board and the law, will not be accepted for initial review. Applicants that submit applications that are accepted for initial review will be notified within 30 days of the date the application is received whether the application is complete or deficient. Applicants that file deficient applications will be given a period of time to correct the deficiencies for a complete application. Acceptance establishes priority as the date the application was received by the State Water Board.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a permit can be issued. Large projects that could endanger or degrade natural habitat or water quality usually require preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. The State Water Board, in its role as either Lead Agency or Responsible Agency, examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. The Board must also consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources such as fisheries, navigation, recreation, and ecology.
  • Water Availability Analysis. Before granting a permit, the Board must find that there is unappropriated water available to supply the applicant. The analysis is typically performed by an engineering consultant retained by the applicant. Occasionally, the applicant or Board staff may perform the analysis.
  • Compliance with Applicable Policies. Projects located in certain geographic areas must comply with applicable State Board Policies relevant to processing a water right application. The Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams applies to projects located in Marin, Sonoma, and portions of Napa, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties.
  • Public Notice and Protest Resolution. The State Water Board is required by law to publish a notice of the application. Any person may file a protest to the application. It is the responsibility of the applicant and any protestant(s) to make a good faith effort to resolve the protest(s). If both parties can agree to mutually acceptable conditions, the protest is resolved. If a protest is not resolved for a small project, a field investigation will be conducted by the Division of Water Rights. The Division may grant or deny a protested application for a small project based on the field investigation, or the Division may hold a hearing. For large projects with unresolved protests, a hearing is held before one or more members of the State Water Board. The Board's decision is based upon the record established during the hearing.
  • Permit Issuance. Two initial Board findings are required before a permit can be issued: (1) unappropriated water is available to supply the applicant, and (2) the applicant's appropriation is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions. If the proposed appropriation does not meet these criteria, conditions may be imposed to ensure they are satisfied or the application may be denied. The State Board maintains a list of standard permit terms. Other conditions are placed on the permit, such as deadlines to commence construction, complete construction, and put water to beneficial use. A permit may only allow diversion and use of that amount of water that the applicant has demonstrated is necessary for the proposed purpose for as long a time as the project is deemed reasonable and is diligently pursued.

Currently, the water rights permitting process is estimated to require five to seven years for regular priority projects from the time an application is received to the time that a decision is rendered. Applications may be considered as higher priority depending on their consistency with these criteria.

A party that needs an immediate, short-term permit to appropriate water may consider submitting an application for a temporary permit.

Special or Related Programs

Petitions. A party may request certain changes to their application after filing and this may trigger the need to file a petition.

Temporary Permitting. A party that needs an immediate, short-term permit to appropriate water may consider submitting an application for a temporary permit.

Licensing. A license is the final confirmation of a water right, and remains effective as long as its conditions are fulfilled and beneficial use continues.

Water Use Measurement. This program page contains information on the requirement to measure water diverted. More stringent requirements apply to certain permits, such as those issued in the Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams area (Marin, Sonoma, and portions of Napa, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties).

Hearings. Certain applications for water right permits may require a hearing before the State Water Board prior to a final decision on the application.

Enforcement. This program reviews complaints, monitors compliance and initiates enforcement action to prevent unauthorized diversions, prevent waste and unreasonable use and adverse impact to public trust resources, and ensure compliance with state water right laws and other mandates of the State Water Board.

Useful Permitting Information

Permitting Frequently Asked Questions
Permitting Fact Sheet (coming soon)
Permitting Flow Chart
Permitting Forms and Guides

Information for Agents and Consultants

This section describes the process for establishing water right permits on a temporary basis. Temporary permits issued by the State Water Board authorize permit holders to temporarily divert and use water upon a demonstration of urgent need. Temporary permits last up to 180 days and are renewable. You may request a temporary permit and concurrently submit an application to obtain a standard water right permit (to obtain a long-term supply of water).

To obtain a temporary permit, the prospective applicant must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective applicant reviews the information about the program to determine if their project meets the criteria of the program. A call to the State Water Board's Permitting and Licensing supervisor responsible for your area or the Division of Water Rights' general information line at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Filing an Application. The process is initiated when an Application to Appropriate Water by Temporary Permit is filed by the person or entity desiring to divert water. This application specifically describes the proposed project's source, place of use, purpose, point(s) of diversion and quantity to be diverted.
  • Acceptance of Application. An application that is received without a filing fee, or that is not made in a bona fide attempt to conform to the rules of the State Water Board and the law, will not be accepted for initial review.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a temporary permit can be issued. Large projects that could endanger or degrade natural habitat or water quality usually require preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. The State Water Board, in its role as either Lead Agency or Responsible Agency, examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. The Board must also consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources such as fisheries, navigation, recreation, and ecology.
  • Public Notice. A temporary permit may be issued prior to giving public notice of the application. The State Board must issue a notice of the applicant's intent and invite comment. The applicant may need to take actions to ensure the notice is properly posted, which may include publishing the notice in a local newspaper. Copies of any objections are given to the applicant.
  • Consideration of Objections. The Board must consider any objections that are filed. If necessary, a formal hearing may be held before one or more members of the State Board. The Board's decision is based upon the record produced by the hearing.
  • Permit Issuance. Four initial Board findings are required before a temporary permit can be issued: (1) that the applicant has an urgent need for the water; (2) that no lawful users of water will be injured; (3) that there will not be an unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses; and, (4) that the applicant's appropriation is in the public interest. The permit may be issued if the Board determines that the proposed use of water meets these criteria.

Temporary permits cannot be considered for licensing, and do not create a vested right even of a temporary nature.

Special or Related Programs

Temporary Permits for Groundwater Recharge/Storage. In January 2016, the State Water Board created this new program.

Permitting. Permitting is the process of filing an application to request that the State Water Board authorize the development of a water diversion project by issuing a permit.

Petitions. Parties who hold water rights and have an urgent need to request a change should consider filing a Petition for Temporary Urgency Change. For more information about petitions, please go here.

Hearings. Certain applications for temporary water right permits may require a hearing before the State Water Board prior to a final decision on the application.

Enforcement. This program reviews complaints, monitors compliance and initiates enforcement action to prevent unauthorized diversions, prevent waste and unreasonable use and adverse impact to public trust resources, and ensure compliance with state water right laws and other mandates of the State Water Board.

Useful Program Information

Temporary Permitting Frequently Asked Questions
Temporary Permitting Fact Sheet
Temporary Permitting Flow Chart
Temporary Permitting Forms and Guides

List of Fully Appropriated Stream Systems
List of Adjudicated Stream Systems
Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams
Information for Agents and Consultants
Water Availability Information
Standard Permit Terms

When the Board determines after an inspection that a permitted project is completed, the terms of the permit have been met, and the volume of water necessary to the project is put to beneficial use, a license may issued. This license is the final confirmation of the water right and remains effective as long as its conditions are fulfilled and beneficial use continues.

Permits specify a development schedule to complete construction and beneficial use of water. When that development schedule elapses, a permittee should either: (1) request revocation of the permit if the project has been abandoned or cannot be diligently completed due to personal or financial reasons; (2) petition for an extension of time to extend the development schedule if the construction and use of water under the permit has been diligently pursued and additional time is necessary to complete full anticipated beneficial use of water; or, (3) notify the State Water Board that the permitted project is complete and ready for licensing.

Due to limited resources, the Division is unable to promptly inspect all projects reported ready for licensing. Therefore, the Division will allow permittees to submit the information needed for licensing for the Division's review and evaluation. For reservoir projects, the Division will accept certified reservoir surveys prepared by a licensed land surveyor or registered engineer. For all projects, the calculations of diversion and beneficial use of water under the permit must be prepared by a qualified professional acceptable to the Division. In the event a submittal is determined to be unacceptable, the permittee will be required to either address deficiencies or wait until the Division conducts its own inspection of the project. In all cases, the Division will determine if a physical inspection of the project facilities is needed to obtain additional information or confirm the permittee's data and measurements. The Division may issue a license if the licensing requirements are met.

Special or Related Programs

Permitting. Permitting is the process of filing an application to request that the State Water Board authorize the development of a water diversion project by issuing a permit.

Petitions. A party holding a water right permit may need to request approval of changes to the permit. These changes include additional time to complete the project or new locations for water diversion or use. Once a license is issued, the party may need to make changes to their project. Any change in purpose, place of use, or point of diversion requires Board approval. The proposed change cannot initiate a new right or injure any other legal user of water.

Enforcement. This program reviews complaints, monitors compliance and initiates enforcement action to prevent unauthorized diversions, prevent waste and unreasonable use and adverse impact to public trust resources, and ensure compliance with state water right laws and other mandates of the State Water Board.

Water Use Measurement. This program page contains information on the requirement to measure water diverted.

Useful Licensing Information

Licensing Flow Chart
Process for Water Rights Licensing
Standard License Terms

The term "Cancellation" refers to the cancellation, either voluntary or involuntary, of a pending water right application. The term "Revocation" refers to the revocation, either voluntary or involuntary, of a water right permit or license. The Board has the authority to enforce the conditions of permits and licenses and is empowered to revoke a permit or license if the conditions are not met. Alternatively, the Board may take other action including issuance of a cease and desist order to ensure that the permit conditions are complied with in a timely fashion.

Useful Program Information

Forms