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Water Rights for Groundwater Recharge

Capturing surface water to artificially recharge groundwater aquifers generally requires an appropriative water right.  Parties can obtain new water rights or change existing water rights to authorize groundwater recharge projects.  The pathways for obtaining water right permits are described on the Applications webpage, including information related to surface water rights for underground storage / groundwater recharge projects. Pathways for changes to existing water rights are described on the Petitions webpage.

NOTICE: When considering the impact of applications for a new or amended permit for groundwater recharge projects on public trust resources or other matters of public interest, the State Water Board intends only to consider those adverse changes that may result from approval of the new permit or amended permit or license and not existing conditions.

News and Announcements

Executive Order B-39-17 directs the State Water Board to prioritize temporary water right permits for projects that enhance the ability of a local or state agency to capture high runoff events for local storage or recharge.  The Executive Order also suspends the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for State Water Board actions on these types of temporary permits.  Executive Order B-36-15, issued November 13, 2015 and rescinded April 7, 2017, contained a similar directive.

Application filing fees for temporary permits to divert to underground storage during high flow events have been substantially reduced to $100+. The amended fee schedule will remain in effect until revised by the State Water Board pursuant to Water Code section 1530.

Quick Links

Groundwater Recharge Permitting - Frequently Asked Questions

What is groundwater recharge?

Groundwater recharge is the augmentation of groundwater, by natural or artificial means, with surface water or recycled water.  Some groundwater recharge projects may use short-term water surpluses that occur only infrequently.

Groundwater recharge is not a beneficial use of water. A diversion to underground storage is one method of diverting and storing water that takes advantage of the natural storage capacity of aquifers. To obtain a water right for diversion to underground storage, the applicant must identify a subsequent beneficial use of the water. Groundwater storage projects have been successfully constructed and are operating in California with diversion to underground storage being the method of diversion. Those projects that divert water authorized by an appropriative water right require use of the stored water for beneficial use, just as with above-ground surface water storage projects. The beneficial use ordinarily involves extraction of the stored water before putting the water to use, but beneficial use may also occur in place, such as leaving the water underground to protect water quality by preventing saline water intrusion.

When do I need an appropriative water right?

You will need a water right if you intend to capture stream flows, including peak storm events, for groundwater recharge and later beneficial use.  Except where the storage and beneficial use are authorized under an existing appropriative right, or a change in an existing right, this will require filing an application with the State Water Resources Control Board to obtain a water right permit. In the water right application, you will need to specify the beneficial uses (i.e., municipal, irrigation, municipal, industrial, water quality, etc.) of the water diverted to underground storage.

Water cannot be stored underground under a riparian water right.  A riparian right is a right to use the natural flow of water on riparian land, but riparian rights do not authorize storage during a wet time for use during a drier time (e.g., from season to season), as occurs with groundwater recharge.  More information on riparian rights can be found on the Division of Water Rights' Frequently Asked Questions page.

In some cases, you may be able to use an existing, post-1914 appropriative right for groundwater storage.  However, a change petition for the permit or license is required, and you must receive approval from the State Water Board before storing water underground.

When do I not need an appropriative water right?

  • Flood Control. Projects designed and used solely for flood protection and not for beneficial use; where capture of flood waters is necessary to protect health and safety, and there is no intent to store the water for later beneficial use by any party.  The water may be held no longer than needed for flood control and no right may be asserted to any of the groundwater recharge that results from the flood control.

  • Recycled Water. Projects that propose to replenish groundwater with recycled water, where the recycled water comes directly from a water treatment plant and is not conveyed using a surface water stream system or a subterranean stream.  In this situation, a wastewater change petition may be necessary if the wastewater was previously discharged to a stream.
  • For more information about using recycled water for groundwater recharge please visit our wastewater change petition page, the Division of Drinking Water's Recycled Water Information webpage and the Department of Water Resource's Water Recycling webpage.

  • Pre-1914 Rights. Projects diverting water under a valid pre-1914 appropriative right, as long as the change does not cause injury to other water users or result in waste or unreasonable use.  Changes to pre-1914 rights do not require approval from the State Water Board.

  • Contract Water. Projects that use water delivered under a water supply contract or purchase agreement in which the water purveyor delivering the water has a right to divert water to underground storage at the proposed location.

Should I apply for a temporary permit or a standard permit?

The type of application you submit will depend on how long you plan to operate your project and how urgently you need the water. Detailed descriptions of the two types of permit can be found on the Application webpage.

  • Temporary permits may be appropriate for short-term or infrequent diversions where an urgent need exists.  Temporary permits expire within 180 days after the date of issuance, unless an earlier date is specified or the temporary permit has been revoked.  Temporary permits can usually be processed more quickly than standard permits and may be renewed by the State Water Board.  A temporary permit is subject to change or revocation at any time.
  • Standard permits are appropriate for long-term projects or projects where no urgent need exists.  Standard permits can take several years to issue, but they secure a priority date for the diversion.

Assuming there is an urgent need, an application for a temporary permit may be filed simultaneously with an application for a standard permit, to cover the period until a standard permit is issued.  Both types of permits require detailed reporting of the amount of water diverted into underground storage, and the amount removed for beneficial use.

How do I apply for a temporary permit for underground storage?

You can apply for a temporary permit by submitting an Application Form, an Underground Storage Supplement Form, necessary fees, and other required information to the Division of Water Rights.  The application will describe the proposed source of water, place of use, purposes of use, points of diversion and quantity to be diverted.

Visit our Tips and Information webpage to learn more about the application process and associated fees.

How can I demonstrate the beneficial use of water under a permit or license that allows underground storage (recharge) as a method of diversion?

To obtain and maintain a water rights permit or license, you must demonstrate beneficial use of the water diverted (e.g., household domestic use, irrigation of agricultural land, municipal use).  The type of accounting necessary to quantify the beneficial use of water held in underground storage will depend on the size and complexity of the project, characteristics of the aquifer, and whether the groundwater storage and recharge occurs under a temporary or standard permit.

Groundwater pumping records within the designated place of use are often the most straightforward way to demonstrate beneficial use of water previously diverted to underground storage. Estimates of crop water use, groundwater modeling, or other approaches may be acceptable in some situations.  In adjudicated basins or areas subject to a Groundwater Sustainability Plan under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, permittees may be able to rely on groundwater accounting systems developed by the basin's watermaster or Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

Who do I contact if I still have questions?

If you would like to discuss your particular project with a staff person, please contact the staff contact for your area.

Pending Applications and Temporary Permits

The table below lists all temporary permit applications for groundwater recharge (underground storage) that the State Water Board received since Executive Order B-36-15 was issued in November, 2015.  New notices of application (Water Code § 1428) and State Water Board actions on the applications will be added to the page shortly after they occur.

2017
Application Number Applicant County Status and Significant Actions
T032874

Application | Supplement Form | Attachments | Supplement Attachment | Map
Eastside Water District Stanislaus/Merced 10/19/2017 Application Received
12/8/2017 Application Canceled
T032854

Application | Supplement Form | Attachment | Map | Photos
Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County Santa Cruz 8/22/2017 Application Received
9/5/2017 Application Cancelled
T032842

Application | Supplement Form | Attachment | Maps | Photos
City of Huron Fresno 7/14/2017 Application Received
9/6/2017 Notice Issued
12/1/2017 Permit Issued
T032766

Application | Supplement Form | Attachments and Maps
Scott Valley Irrigation District Siskiyou 1/19/2017 Application Received
2/7/2017 Notice Issued
2/22/2017 Application Canceled

2016
Application Number Applicant County Status and Significant Actions
T032756
Application | Supplement Form | Attachments and Maps
Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Yolo 12/13/2016 Application Received
12/27/2016 Notice Issued
1/4/2017 Objection Received
1/12/2017 Permit Issued

1/20/2017 Objection Received
7/11/17 Permit Revoked
9/19/2017 Summary Report
T032738
Application | Attachment 1 and Supplement Form | Map
City of Corona Riverside 10/10/2016 Application Received
3/6/2017 Application Canceled
T032704
Application | Attachments and Supplement Form | Map | Photos
Eastside Water District Stanislaus/Merced 7/26/2016 Application Received
9/2/2016 Notice Issued

9/30/2016 Objection Received
11/8/2016 Permit Issued
5/1/17 Permit Revoked
T032703
Application | Attachments and Supplement FormMap | Photos
Eastside Water District Stanislaus/Merced 7/26/2016 Application Received
9/2/2016 Notice Issued

10/3/2016 Objection Received
12/6/2016 Application Canceled
T032581
Application | Supplement Form | Attachment and MapsSupplement Form Attachment
Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Yolo 1/28/2016 Application Received
2/3/2016 Permit Issued

2/8/2016 Notice Issued
2/16/2016 Objection Received
8/1/2016 Permit Revoked
9/23/2016 Summary Report
T032564
Application | Supplement Form | Maps |Photos | Attachment
Scott Valley Irrigation District Siskiyou 1/13/2016 Application Received
1/15/2016 Permit Issued
1/21/2016 Notice Issued
2/17/2016 Objection Received
7/13/2016 Permit Revoked

9/30/2016 Summary Report
12/01/2016 Revised Summary

Program Development and History

In carrying out the parts of Executive Orders B-36-15 and B-39-17 related to temporary permits for underground storage, State Water Board staff has participated in a number of meetings and workshops intended to explain the program and obtain feedback from the public.  Meeting materials and public comments are available below.

December 6, 2016 State Water Board Meeting Informational Item

An informational item was presented at the December 6, 2016 State Water Board Meeting, providing an update on temporary permits for underground storage. The item included presentations from the parties involved in two temporary permits and from Division of Water Rights staff.

June 3, 2016 Water Rights Fee Stakeholder Meeting

At the June 3, 2016 Water Rights Fee Stakeholder Meeting, Division of Water Rights staff requested feedback on five preliminary fee structure ideas for temporary water rights permits for underground storage.

Background:

April 26, 2016 State Board Staff Public Workshop

On April 26, 2016, Division of Water Rights staff held a public workshop on temporary permits for groundwater storage/recharge. Staff requested input on 1) appropriate fee structures for temporary water rights permits to allow underground storage, and 2) the State Water Board's process for permitting these projects. Written comments were due Friday, April 29, 2016.