Water Rights Petitions

Welcome to the State Water Board's Water Rights Petitions Program webpage. The State Water Board's Division of Water Rights administers California's water rights system. Parties can petition to modify their existing post-1914 water right permits or licenses as their projects change,
or if they wish to transfer water to another party. These approvals can be temporary or can be permanent. Parties with permits may also request additional time to develop their project. There are also types of petitions that can be used by other types of water right holders. For example, parties holding pre-1914 or riparian claims can submit instream flow dedications to allow some of their water to remain instream and benefit instream uses. The Division of Water Rights also processes petitions submitted by wastewater treatment plant operators who wish to decrease their discharges to a stream.

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Water Rights General Phone Line (916) 341-5300

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This section contains links to important developments that have an impact on the Petitions Program. Please check this section periodically for the latest information.

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Useful Program Information

Petitions Frequently Asked Questions
Petitions Flow Chart:

Petitions Forms and Guides

Information for Agents and Consultants
Standard Amended Right Terms

Special or Related Programs
Water Use Measurement. This program page contains information on requirements to measure water diverted. More stringent requirements may apply to some change petitions in specific geographic areas.
Hearings. Certain petitions may require a hearing before the State Water Board prior to a final decision on the change petition.
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.

Standard Change Petition

This section describes the Water Rights standard change petition process. Post-1914 appropriative rights, permits and licenses, carefully spell out the amounts, conditions, and construction timetables for the water project. If a right holder decides after either a permit or license is obtained, that they wish to change the conditions of their project, they generally must petition for approval by the Division of Water Rights. Parties also file petitions to modify the project requested in their application. Typical types of changes to a permit or license include:

  • Point of Diversion.
  • Purpose of Use.
  • Place of Use.
  • Other Changes to the Terms or Conditions of the Water Right.

To change their water right, the right holder must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective petitioner reviews the information about the program to determine if the petition is appropriate. A call to the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Submit a Petition. The process is initiated when a change petition is filed by the right holder. This petition specifically describes the proposed changes to the project. The petitioner must provide a copy of the complete petition package to, and request consultation with, both the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Coupling a Standard Change Petition with Another Petition. A party may file multiple petitions for the same water right. For example, a party may file both an Instream Flow Petition with a Standard Change Petition. This is done if the party wants to make a permanent change to the water right to reflect an instream flow dedication. Another example is when a party files a time extension and also asks to modify other parts of the water right, such as the place of use or the location where water is diverted.
  • Review of the Petition Form. The Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt (typically within 30 days) if the petition is incomplete.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a change petition can be approved. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible.
  • Public Notice and Protest Resolution. If necessary, the State Water Board publishes a notice of the right holder's intent to change their project and invites comment. Any interested person may file a protest to the petition. Copies of any protests are given to the right holder who is required to respond. It is the responsibility of the petitioner 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 at this point in the process. In the event it is not resolved for small projects, the issue may be addressed through a field investigation by the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights. Protests to large projects are addressed through a hearing held before one or more members of the State Water Board. The State Water Board's decision on the petition and any protests is based upon the record created during the hearing.
  • Hydrologic Analysis. Before granting a change petition, the State Board evaluates if the change could result in a decrease in stream flow. If analysis is needed, it 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 are required to comply with applicable State Board Policies relevant to processing of a water right change petition. 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. Petitions for projects in this area may be subject to special requirements such as hydrologic analysis and when adding an onstream dam.
  • Revised Permit or License Issuance. State Water Board findings are required before a petition can be issued including:
    • Change does not initiate a new water right,
    • Change can be made without injuring other legal users of water including the environment, and
    • The petition is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all State Water Board decisions.
    • The revised water right is then issued if the State Water Board determines that the proposed change meets these criteria. If it determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure the criteria are satisfied or the petition may be denied.

Currently, the Water Rights Petition Program is estimated to require five to seven years for regular priority projects from the time a petition is received to the time that a decision is rendered. Petitions may be considered for higher priority depending on their consistency with these criteria.

A party that needs an immediate, short-term change to their water right may consider submitting temporary urgency change petition.

Permit Time Extension

This section describes the Water Rights time extension petition process. Post-1914 appropriative right permits contain deadlines for beginning construction work, completion of construction work, and application of water to beneficial use. Unlike riparian rights, permits to appropriate water are limited to the maximum amount that is needed by the proposed project (or "beneficial use[s]"), for as long a time as the project is deemed reasonable and diligently pursued. If the right holder is not able to complete the project by the timeline specified in the permit, the party may need to file a time extension petition to ask for additional time.

To change their water right, the petitioner must follow these steps:

  • Submit a Petition. The process is initiated when a time extension petition is filed by right holder. This petition describes how long of a time extension the party is seeking and the reason for the delay in the development of the project.
  • Review of the Petition Form. The Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt (typically within 30 days) if the petition is incomplete.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a change petition can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible.
  • Public Notice and Protest Resolution. If necessary, the State Water Board will require the petitioner to publish notice of the right holder's request for an extension of time and invite comment. The State Water Board will consider any protests that have been filed. If both parties can agree to mutually acceptable conditions, the protest is resolved at this point in the process. In the event it is not resolved for small projects, the issue may be addressed by the Division of Water Rights through a field investigation. For appeals from the report and for large projects, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the State Water Board. The State Water Board's decision is based upon the record produced during the hearing.
  • Hydrologic Analysis. Before granting a change petition, the State Board evaluates if the change could result in a decrease in stream flow. If analysis is needed, it 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 are required to comply with applicable State Board Policies relevant to processing of a water right change petition. 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. Petitions for projects in this area may be subject to special requirements including hydrologic analysis and when adding an onstream dam.
  • Revised Permit Issuance. Three initial Board findings are required before a petition for extension of time can be approved:
    • Due diligence has been exercised by the petitioner,
    • Failure to comply with previous time requirements has been occasioned by obstacles which could not reasonably be avoided,
    • Satisfactory progress will be made if the time extension is granted; and that
    • Approval of the petition is in the public interest. If the Board determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure the criteria are satisfied or the petition may be denied.

Currently, the Water Rights Petition Program is estimated to require five to seven years for regular priority projects from the time a petition is received to the time that a decision is rendered. Petitions may be considered for higher priority depending on their consistency with these criteria.

Temporary Urgency Change Petition

This section describes the temporary urgency change petition process. This type of petition can provide approval of changes lasting up to 180 days, though the changes may be renewed. This type of petition can be used to temporarily modify a post-1914 permit or license, such as changing the point of diversion, purpose of use, place of use, or other terms or conditions, or to transfer water. This type of petition can also be used to temporarily modify a wastewater change petition.

To make a temporary change of a water right, the petitioner must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective petitioner reviews the information about the program to determine if the petition is appropriate. A call to the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Submit a Petition. The process is initiated when a temporary urgency change petition is filed by the petitioner. This petition specifically describes the proposed changes to the project. Because the Board must consult with the Department of Fish and Wildlife prior to approving the petition, the petitioner should provide them with a copy of the petition. A key component of this type of petition is the petitioner needs to explain why they have an urgent need to make the change.
  • Review of the Petition Form. The State Water Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt if the petition is incomplete.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a change petition can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible.
  • Public Notice and Objection Consideration. A temporary urgency change may be issued prior to giving public notice of the application. The State Board issues a notice of the petitioner's intent. The petitioner may need to take actions to ensure the notice is properly posted, which may include publishing the notice in a local newspaper. The State Water Board will consider any objections that have been filed, which may require additional information from the petitioner. If necessary, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the State Water Board. The State Water Board's decision is based upon the record produced by the hearing.
  • Order Issuance. State Water Board findings are required before a petition can be issued including:
    • Change does not initiate a new water right;
    • The petitioner has an urgent need for the proposed change;
    • Change can be made without injuring other legal users of water, and
    • Change can be made without unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife or other instream beneficial uses;
    • Change is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions.
    • The revised water right is then issued if the State Water Board determines that the proposed change meets these criteria. If it determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure they are satisfied or the petition may be denied.

Due to the urgent nature of these requests, the State Water Board places all urgency change petitions at a high priority. The processing time for these petitions will depend on the needs of the petitioner, the availability of staffing, and the complexity of the change requested.

Instream Flow Dedication

This section describes the instream flow dedication (Water Code 1707) process. Instream Flow petitions can be filed by parties who hold appropriative water rights (pre-1914, or post-1914 rights), riparian claims or other rights. The State Water Board maintains a program page at: Instream Flow Dedication.

To request an instream flow dedication, the petitioner must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective petitioner reviews the information about the program to determine if the petition is appropriate. A call to the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Submits Petitions. The process is initiated when the petitioner files a petition including two requests: a Water Code Section 1707 dedication and a petition under another section of the Water Code depending on how long the instream flow dedication is intended to last. Options to couple with a 1707 petition include:
    • Standard Change Petition. Use when party wants to make a permanent change to their water right.
    • Temporary Urgency Change Petition. Use when a party wants to make a temporary (180 days, renewable) change to their water right.
    • Temporary Transfer Petition. Use when the instream flow dedication also involves a transfer of water (such as when the water is dedicated in a specific reach then picked up by a buyer lower in the stream system). This type of change lasts up to 1 year.
    • Long Term Transfer Petition. Use when the instream flow dedication also involves a transfer of water (such as when the water is dedicated in a specific reach then picked up by a buyer lower in the stream system). This type of change lasts for more than one year.

This petition specifically describes the proposed changes to the project. Typically an instream flow dedication 1) adds the purpose of use of fish and wildlife preservation and enhancement; 2) specifies a new place of use consisting of a reach of the stream. The petitioner must provide a copy of the petition to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt if the petition is incomplete.

  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a change petition can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible.
  • Public Notice and Protest/Objection Resolution. If necessary, the State Board publishes a notice of the right holder's intent to change their project consistent with the petition process being utilized to request the instream flow dedication. If necessary, the State Water Board will consider protests and any objections or comments that have been filed. In some cases, 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 during the hearing.
  • Order Issuance. In addition to the findings required for the other petition the Instream Flow dedication petition may be coupled with, the Board findings for an instream flow dedication include:
    • Change does not initiate a new water right;
    • Change can be made without unreasonably affecting other legal users of water,
    • Change is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions.
    • The revised water right may then be issued if the Board determines that the proposed change meets these criteria. If it determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure the criteria are satisfied or the petition may be denied.

Processing time for instream flow dedications are dependent on the type of petition that it is coupled with. Instream Flow Petitions may be considered for higher priority depending on their consistency with these criteria.

Water Transfers

This section describes transfer petitions, which are used by willing buyers and sellers to supply water where it is needed most. The State Water Board maintains a program page at: Water Transfers Program

To request a transfer petition, the petitioner must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective petitioner reviews the information about the program to determine if the petition is appropriate. A call to the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Submit a Petition. The process is initiated when the petitioner files a petition. Options include:
    • Temporary Transfer Petition. Use for a transfer of water for up to 1 year.
    • Long Term Transfer Petition. Use for a transfer of water that will last for more than one year.

The petition specifically describes the proposed changes to the project to accomplish the transfer. Typically a transfer involves a willing buyer and seller or an exchange. The water right is modified to include the new of point of diversion/re-diversion of the water, the new purposes of use of the water (if different from the water right) and the new place of use (such as the service area of the buyer). The petitioner must provide a copy of the petition to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the board of supervisors of the county in which the petitioner currently stores or uses the water, and the board of supervisors of the county to which the water is proposed to be transferred. The Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt if the petition is incomplete.

  • Environmental Review.
    • Temporary Transfers: These types of transfers are statutorily exempt from CEQA. The petition must still be evaluated to confirm that the transfer will not result in an unreasonable effect on fish, wildlife or other instream beneficial uses.
    • Long Term Transfers: Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a long term transfer petition can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed.

In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible

  • Public Notice and Comment Consideration. The State Board issues a notice of the right holder's intent to change their project and invites comment. The Board considers any comments that have been filed. In some cases, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the State Board. The Board's decision is based upon the record produced during the hearing.
  • Order Issuance. Board findings are required before a petition can be issued including:
    • Temporary Transfers:
      • Transfer only involves the amount of water that would have been consumptively used or stored in the absence of the transfer;
      • No injury to any legal user of water during hydrologic conditions likely to occur during the proposed change;
      • Does not unreasonably affect fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses.
    • Long Term Transfers:
      • Change does not initiate a new water right;
      • Change can be made without substantial injury to other legal users of water, and
      • Change can be made without unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife or other instream beneficial uses;
    • Change is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions.
    • The Order is then issued if the Board determines that the proposed change meets these criteria. If it determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure they are satisfied or the petition may be denied.

For temporary transfers, the processing time for these types of transfers is specified in the Water Code, and generally lasts between 45-60 days, if a hearing is not necessary. For long term transfers, processing time can extend from up to a year to several years, depending on the complexity of the project and the amount of information gathering and coordination the party has completed prior to submittal of the petition.

Wastewater Petitions

This section describes wastewater change petitions. Wastewater treatment facilities discharge treated wastewater to many stream systems in the state. To better manage resources and facilitate water use efficiency, many municipalities are designing water re-use projects. If the water re-use project will decrease the amount of water in a stream or other waterway, the owner of the wastewater treatment plant needs to file a wastewater change petition with the Division of Water Rights (Division). To approve a wastewater change petition, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) must be able to find that the proposed change will not injure other legal users of water, will not unreasonably harm instream uses, and is not contrary to the public interest. A petition is not needed for changes in the discharge or use of treated wastewater that do not result in decreasing the flow in any portion of a watercourse, or when the discharge is directly to the ocean or a bay. Also, reductions in discharge associated with reduced plant influent due to water conservation measures are not subject to the petition requirement.

Three sections of the Water Code explicitly address ownership and water rights with respect to treated wastewater:

  • Water Code Section 1210: "The owner of a waste water treatment plant operated for the purpose of treating wastes from a sanitary sewer system shall hold the exclusive right to the treated waste water as against anyone who has supplied the water discharged into the waste water collection and treatment system, including a person using water under a water service contract, unless otherwise provided by agreement. Nothing in this article shall affect the treatment plant owner's obligations to any legal user of the discharged treated waste water. Nothing in this article is intended to interfere with the regulatory authority of the board or any California regional water quality control board under Division 7 (commencing with Section 13000)."
  • Water Code Section 1211: "(a) Prior to making any change in the point of discharge, place of use, or purpose of use of treated wastewater, the owner of any wastewater treatment plant shall obtain approval of the board for that change. The board shall review the changes pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 1700) of Part 2 of Division 2. (b) Subdivision (a) does not apply to changes in the discharge or use of treated wastewater that do not result in decreasing the flow in any portion of a watercourse."
  • Water Code Section 1212: "The board shall not grant any permit or license to any person other than the treated waste water producer for the appropriation of treated waste water where the producer has introduced such water into the watercourse with the prior stated intention of maintaining or enhancing fishery, wildlife, recreational, or other instream beneficial uses. Holders of existing water rights may not use or claim such water."

To request a wastewater change petition, the petitioner must follow these steps:

  • Review Program Criteria and Limitations. The prospective petitioner reviews the information about the program to determine if the petition is appropriate. A call to the State Water Board's Division of Water Rights at (916) 341-5300 may be helpful.
  • Submit a Petition. The process is initiated when a change petition is filed by the right holder. This petition specifically describes the proposed changes to the project. The petitioner must provide a copy of the complete petition package to, and request consultation with, both the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Review of the Petition Form. The Board notifies the petitioner shortly after receipt (typically within 30 days) if the petition is incomplete.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a change petition can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project's potential environmental impacts and determines whether mitigation measures will be needed. In addition to any obligation the State Water Board may have under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board has an independent obligation to consider the effect of the proposed project on public trust resources and to protect those resources where feasible.
  • Public Notice and Protest Resolution. If necessary, the State Water Board publishes a notice of the right holder's intent to change their project. Copies of any protests are given to the right holder who is required to respond.
  • Protest Resolution. The Board must address protests that have been filed. If both parties can agree to mutually acceptable conditions, the protest is resolved at this point in the process. In the event it is not resolved for small projects, Board may conduct a field investigation report to address the dispute. For appeals from the field investigation report and for large projects, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the State Water Board. The State Water Board's decision is based upon the record produced during the hearing.
  • Hydrologic Analysis. Before granting a change petition, the State Board evaluates if the change could result in a decrease in stream flow. If analysis is needed, it may be conducted by the applicant, typically by an engineering consultant they retain, or by Board staff.
  • Compliance with Applicable Policies. Projects located in certain geographic areas are required to comply with applicable State Board Policies relevant to processing of a water right change petition. Petitions to change the point of discharge, place of use, or purpose of use of treated wastewater may be subject to the Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams (Policy), if the change may result in a decrease in natural flow in any portion of a watercourse located within the counties covered by the Policy (Marin, Sonoma, and portions of Napa, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties) unless the source of wastewater discharge is entirely comprised of imported water. To process wastewater change petitions, pursuant to the Policy, the State Water Resources Control Board requires sufficient information to determine whether the proposed change will impair instream beneficial uses due to a decrease in flow. The Policy includes processing requirements applicable to changes with and without the potential to impair instream beneficial uses due to a decrease in flow (Policy section 3.3.2.2). The Policy also includes processing requirements applicable to changes that may result in a decrease in flow on flow regulated main stem rivers (Policy section 3.2).
    • Processing Flowchart: Evaluation of Wastewater Change Petitions Pursuant to the Instream Flow Policy
  • Order Issuance. Board findings are required before a petition can be issued including:
    • Change can be made without injuring other legal users of water including the environment, and
    • The petition is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions.
    • The revised water right is then issued if the Board determines that the proposed change meets these criteria. If it determines otherwise, conditions may be imposed to ensure that the conditions are satisfied or the petition may be denied.
    • Project Operation. Once the State Water Board has issued one or more orders approving one or more wastewater change petitions, the owner of the wastewater treatment facility must operate in accordance with the conditions of the order(s). Additional petitions may be required for the following two situations:
      • A Standard Change Petition if the owner of the wastewater treatment facility is proposing to change either: (1) the purpose of use, place of use, or point of discharge of treated wastewater, and the change will not result in a reduction of instream flows beyond the reduction already approved in an Order issued by the State Water Board; or, (2) any condition as described in any Order issued by the State Water Board.
      • An additional Wastewater Change Petition if the owner of the wastewater treatment facility is proposing to change the purpose of use, place of use, or point of discharge of treated wastewater and the change will result in a reduction of instream flows beyond the reduction already approved in the order or orders.

Currently, wastewater petitions are estimated to require several years for regular priority projects from the time a petition is received to the time that a decision is rendered. Petitions may be considered for higher priority depending on their consistency with these criteria.

Helpful Links: Recycled Water Funding Opportunities. State Water Board's Recycled Water Policy.