Water Rights: Public Trust Resources
The State Water Board is responsible for the protection of resources, such as fisheries, wildlife, aesthetics, and navigation, which are held in trust for the public. The State Water Board must consider these responsibilities when planning and allocating water resources, and protect public trust uses whenever feasible. The State Water Board must consider these public trust values in the balancing of all beneficial uses of water, in accordance with the Water Rights Mission Statement and Water Code §1253.
Water Rights Mission Statement: “Our Mission is to establish and maintain a stable system of water rights in California to best develop, conserve, and utilize in the public interest the water resources of the State while protecting vested rights, water quality and the environment.”
Water Code §1253: “The board shall allow the appropriation for beneficial purposes of unappropriated water under such terms and conditions as in its judgment will best develop, conserve, and utilize in the public interest the water sought to be appropriated.”
If you have observed an activity or physical evidence of an activity related to the diversion of water that is causing harm to public trust resources; or have knowledge of illegal diversions of water that are causing harm to public trust resources, the Division of Water Rights would like to know about it. You may file a public trust complaint with the Division of Water Rights through the Cal/EPA Environmental Complaint Form.
The beneficial uses of water, pertaining to water rights, are defined in the California Code of Regulations (CCR) §659-672 to include: domestic; irrigation; power; municipal; mining; industrial; fish and wildlife preservation and enhancement; aquaculture; recreational; stockwatering; water quality; frost protection; and heat control.
Water quality control plans (basin plans) also designate beneficial uses and establish water quality objectives for waters of the State. For waters within a specified area, a basin plan designates or establishes: (1) beneficial uses to be protected; (2) water quality objectives; and (3) a program of implementation to achieve the water quality objectives (Water Code §13050). Basin plans commonly designate beneficial uses in addition to those uses identified for water rights in CCR §659-672.
Instream Flow Dedication
Individuals or groups of individuals can change an existing beneficial use to dedicate some or all of the water under their water right(s) to instream beneficial uses by submitting a petition for instream flow dedication under Water Code §1707.
Water Code §1707: “Any person entitled to the use of water, whether based upon an appropriative, riparian, or other right, may petition the board pursuant to this chapter, Chapter 6.6 (commencing with Section 1435) or Chapter 10.5 (commencing with Section 1725) for a change for purposes of preserving or enhancing wetlands habitat, fish and wildlife resources, or recreation in, or on, the water. […]. ”
Big Chico Creek, a tributary to the Sacramento River (click image to enlarge)