Temporary Water Rights Permits for Groundwater Recharge

Temporary water rights permits for groundwater recharge may be appropriate for short-term projects where an urgent need exists.  Most temporary permits expire within 180 days after the date of issuance.  Temporary permits can usually be processed more quickly than standard permits and may be renewed, but are subject to change or revocation at any time.

  1. Plan out the project, conduct recommended early outreach, and submit complete application package.
  2. Upon receipt of the application, the State Water Board will:
    1. Review the application for initial completeness;
    2. Review information relevant to water availability;
    3. Determine compliance with CEQA and consider the project's effects on Public Trust resources;
    4. Prepare findings based on contents of application package and other available information;
    5. Prepare a Temporary Permit.
  3. The application is publicly noticed and objections may be received. A Temporary Permit can be issued before or after noticing (Wat. Code, § 1428). Be aware that temporary permits are subject to change at any time: If objections are received, permit terms could be changed or the permit could be revoked.
  4. You will be required to comply with the terms and conditions in the permit, including measurement and reporting requirements.

Groundwater recharge is the enhancement of water levels in groundwater aquifers, by natural or artificial means, with surface water or recycled water. Groundwater recharge is not a beneficial use of water on its own, but rather is one method of diverting and storing water that takes advantage of the natural storage capacity of groundwater aquifers. To obtain a water right to divert water to underground storage, you must identify the eventual beneficial use of the water just as with above-ground surface water storage projects.

Robust accounting methodologies for subbasins or management areas under SGMA may be relied upon to demonstrate beneficial use. As parties pursue various extractive or in situ beneficial uses, the Division will provide the applications as examples to assist others.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to consider methods to model the fate of water transmitted to underground storage in both the project planning and accounting development steps.

Please see the Division’s Fact Sheet regarding Purposes of Use for Underground Storage Projects for additional guidance regarding beneficial uses for underground storage projects.

Recommended Early Outreach Prior to Application Submittal

  • Contact the appropriate Permitting Section staff person in your project area for early consultation. You should have a clear description of your project to share with staff. Contact California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Water Rights staff to discuss your project before submitting your application to us. You may wish to modify your project based on this consultation (e.g., to include protective measures such as fish screens in your proposed diversion works and/or limiting the intended diversion season to a period without species concerns.) so it is a good idea to consult with CDFW well in advance of the season in which you plan to divert. Include the name of the person or people contacted and identify any project concerns or suggestions on your temporary permit application form.
  • Contact other legal diverters of water in the watershed. You can review the eWRIMS web mapping database to identify any downstream reservoirs and other legal users of water. Explain your project and try to resolve any concerns before submitting your application. If you are in the Sacramento or San Joaquin River Watersheds, at a minimum we suggest you contact Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Contact the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Board staff regarding any potential water quality concerns and include any information provided in your application package. In addition, consult with any other relevant agencies such as Department of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, State Lands Commission, State Reclamation Board, and/or local agencies.

Apply for a temporary permit early with a complete package, including:

  • Completed, signed Application to Appropriate Water form;
  • Completed Underground Storage Supplement form;
  • Application filing fee and CDFW fee;
  • Information on measuring devices as required by California Code of Regulations, title 23, chapters 2.7 and 2.8;
  • Two complete sets of color photographs of the project site;
  • Data, reports, and other information to support required Findings under Water Code section 1425 (see below);
  • If needed for your project, environmental review completed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • Information related to the temporary permit findings.

Prior to issuing a temporary permit, the State Water Board is required to make all of the findings listed below. To help assist in timely processing of your Application, please provide the following information in your application package:

The applicant has an urgent need for the water proposed to be diverted and used:

  • Discuss why you have an urgent need to divert and use the water and why the diversion will put the water resources of the state to beneficial use to the fullest extent they are capable of and waste of water is prevented. If applicable, provide information on the project's intersection with regional drought or depleted groundwater aquifer conditions and potential high flows in the upcoming wet season. Discuss the description of downstream fate of the water (e.g., downstream terminus, floodplain inundation, regulation of flow by onstream reservoir, discharge to ocean)
  • If the applicant has a pending application and the temporary permit is to provide coverage until a standard permit is issued, discuss whether the applicant has exercised due diligence in pursuing an application for a standard permit. (Wat. Code, § 1425, subd. (c).)

The water may be diverted and used without injury to any lawful water user:

  • Conduct early outreach with other legal diverters in the watershed and make an effort to address and resolve any concerns about your project. Provide documentation as part of your application package to assist staff in making required findings.
  • If the proposal for temporary permit is to divert only flood flows, state how the diversion will be limited either by physical diversion design or monitoring protocol.
  • Discuss the proposed method to account for the volume of water diverted to underground storage, maintained in storage, and extracted and applied to beneficial use.

The water may be diverted and used without unreasonable effect on fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses:

  • In addition to any concerns raised by CDFW staff, the State Water Board has an independent responsibility to evaluate the project to determine if there are any unreasonable effects on fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses. Collect existing available information relevant to the watershed for the application package.
  • Discuss how your project has been designed to minimize effects on fish, wildlife or other instream beneficial uses, e.g., fish screens on diversion works, limiting diversions to only periods of flood flows, and/or any other proposed protective measures
  • If any construction is proposed, discuss what is involved and the steps that will be taken to avoid or reduce effects on fish and wildlife.

The proposed diversion and use are in the public interest:

  • In your application packet, explain why your project is in the public interest. If applicable, provide a description of subsidence or overdraft conditions in the subject groundwater basin or sub-basin (e.g., CASGEM basin priority designation, drinking water supply reliability). If applicable, provide information on how the project will address flood-vulnerability of downstream communities and structures.

Please include any information you can provide regarding the availability of water at your proposed point of diversion during the months you intend to divert. Examples of useful information include nearby flow information, preferably from a streamflow gage with at least ten water years of data, unimpaired seasonal flow volume, information on downstream demand, and any calculations you have made regarding available water supply for the proposed.

Before making the findings required by Water Code section 1425, the State Water Board shall review available records, files, and decisions which relate to the availability of water from the source at the proposed point of diversion to serve the proposed temporary diversion and use, and which relate to the rights of downstream users; shall consult with representatives of the Department of Fish and Wildlife; and shall make a field investigation, if necessary or desirable in the opinion of the State Water Board. (Wat. Code, § 1427.)

CEQA applies to all discretionary projects proposed to be conducted or approved by a California public agency, including private projects requiring discretionary state approval, unless an exemption applies. CEQA helps to guide the Division during issuance of permits and approval of projects. Temporary Permits generally are required to comply with CEQA. Since the environmental review process can be lengthy, it is important that you plan appropriately and recognize that it will take time to complete this process.

If the State Water Board acts as Lead Agency for your project, CEQA requires the State Water Board, directly or under contract, to prepare the appropriate environmental documentation prior to taking any discretionary action such as approving an application. Generally, when the State Water Board is the Lead Agency, the applicant is responsible for all costs associated with CEQA review. If the State Water Board will act as Lead Agency and you believe your project is exempt from CEQA, you should provide the basis for any possible exemption(s). A project may be exempt from CEQA if: (a) a statutory exemption applies; (b) a categorical exemption applies (and no exceptions are triggered); or (c) the general rule exemption applies where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity may have a significant effect on the environment.

If the State Water Board acts as Responsible Agency, the applicant should provide the State Water Board the opportunity to provide preliminary comments on the administrative draft environmental document. If the environmental document has already been finalized by the Lead Agency, the State Water Board will review the final environmental document.

Independent from CEQA, the State Water Board must consider the effect of the project on public trust resources and where feasible, avoid or minimize harm to those resources. If all or a portion of a project is found to be exempt from CEQA, an analysis will still be needed to evaluate the project's effects on public trust resources and the beneficial uses of water. Public trust resources may include, but are not limited to, wildlife, fish, aquatic dependent species, streambeds, riparian areas, tidelands, and recreation.


Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s Executive Order B-39-17, dated April 6, 2017, directs the State Water Board to prioritize temporary water right permits to accelerate approvals for projects that enhance the ability of a local or state agency to capture high runoff events for local storage or recharge, consistent with water rights priorities and protections for fish and wildlife. The Order also suspends CEQA for State Water Board actions on these types of temporary permits.

Applications for temporary permits from individuals or private entities remain subject to CEQA, as described below.

Right holders will need to demonstrate beneficial use is occurring. The Division has released a fact sheet describing options for beneficial uses that include both extractive uses (e.g., for irrigation) and in situ uses (e.g., for stopping seawater intrusion). These uses, as well as how much water has been diverted and how much water remains stored underground must be provided in annual reports required by existing law.

Several options are available for accounting for the storage and use of water under the streamlined permitting process. The most appropriate method will likely depend on the type of applicant, the beneficial uses proposed, and whether an existing method of accounting for groundwater stored in the basin is already established by a groundwater sustainability plan, court decree, or other basis for groundwater management.

A simplified accounting method for extractive beneficial uses is last-in-first-out. Pursuant to this method, water that is diverted to storage under the permit is extracted and used prior to reliance on any other basis of right to extract and use water. This method of accounting may avoid the need to calculate storage losses over time and thereby simplify the methodology. Where the end-user of water is not the permit-holder, agreements or regulations must be in place to assure that water stored under the permit is extracted and used before reliance on any other basis of right.

Existing groundwater accounting methods established by a groundwater sustainability plan, court decree, or other type of groundwater management plan may also be relied upon for streamlined processing. Where an existing plan is in place that is sufficiently robust to provide adequate accounting of water storage and use, the Division may require as a term in the permit that water stored and used be accounted for in accordance with the existing methodology. A groundwater sustainability agency that is developing an accounting methodology for management of the basin may want to consider whether the methodology is sufficiently robust to be relied upon for permitting and eventual licensing of rights to divert water to underground storage.  Considerations of methods to model the fate of water transmitted to underground storage may also be helpful in developing and/or calibrating an accounting methodology.

Other accounting methodologies may also be used for purposes of permitting but may require additional processing time for development and review.

Application filing fees for temporary permits to divert to underground storage during high flow events are described in the current fee schedule summary.


For more information, please contact the staff person in your permitting watershed area. For all other water right inquiries, please call (916) 341-5300.