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.”

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Deer Creek - Click to Enlarge

Public Trust Complaints

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.

Beneficial Uses of Water

One of the State Water Board’s charges is to ensure that the State’s waters are put to the best possible use, and that the public interest is served. In making decisions, the State Water Board must keep three major goals in mind, to: develop water resources in an orderly manner; prevent the waste and unreasonable use of water; and protect the environment. This is consistent with the California Constitution Article X Section 2.

California Constitution Article X Section 2: “It is hereby declared that because of the conditions prevailing in this State the general welfare requires that the water resources of the State be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable, and that the waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use of water be prevented, and that the conservation of such waters is to be exercised with a view to the reasonable and beneficial use thereof in the interest of the people and for the public welfare. The right to water or to the use or flow of water in or from any natural stream or water course in this State is and shall be limited to such water as shall be reasonably required for the beneficial use to be served, and such right does not and shall not extend to the waste or unreasonable use or method of use or unreasonable method of diversion of water. […].”

        Big Sur River (click image to enlarge)



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)



Public Trust Actions

Related Resources

     Burney Falls, located on Burney Creek in Shasta County (click image to enlarge)