Regulators prepare water diverters for stepped-up reporting rules

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Michael George, the California Water Resources Control Board's watermaster for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, stands next to the San Joaquin River. He was one of the presenters at an Aug. 22 workshop on the board's stepped-up regulations for reporting water diversions.

SACRAMENTO — Hundreds of farmers and others flocked to a state water board “information fair” on Aug. 22 to get answers on how stepped-up reporting requirements for water diversions will affect their farms and ranches.

Water-rights officials told an overflow audience in a meeting room at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters that state regulators will take their operations’ unique characteristics into account when applying the rules.

The goal, enforcement section chief Kathy Mrowka said, is to gather “accurate information” about how much water is being used around the state amid a drought that is in its fifth year.

The State Water Resources Control Board’s emphasis will be on achieving compliance, not necessarily the collection of fines, said Michael George, the watermaster for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region.

“We are interested in learning from some of the experimentation that’s already going on” with regard to measuring diversions, George said.

The all-day workshop sought to bring together water right holders, vendors and other industry professionals to discuss how to measure water diversions. The workshop included an overview of the regulations as well as segments on measuring water stored in small ponds or reservoirs and measuring water from the Delta.

Farmers and others packed the meeting hall and an overflow room to view the sessions, which were also streamed online.

In addition, more than a dozen companies showcased their measurement instruments at booths in a hallway near the meeting room.

The workshop followed the board’s decision in January to ramp up reporting requirements for California’s roughly 12,000 landowners and users who have rights to divert surface water from nearby streams.

The regulations require annual reporting of water diversions rather than reporting once every three years, as previous law required of senior right holders. Under the new rules, anyone who takes out more than 10 acre-feet of water per year must measure their diversions.

The requirements will be phased in. Large diverters with a claimed right to take 1,000 acre-feet of water or more per year must have a measuring device in place by Jan. 1, 2017, while those with rights for 100 acre-feet or more have until July 1, 2017 and those with rights to take 10 acre-feet or more must comply by Jan. 1, 2018.

Failure to comply with the new regulations could bring fines of up to $500 per day, according to the board. The emergency regulations were required as part of legislation that enacted the 2015-16 state budget.

George told landowners that he and members of the board’s water rights division were creating a mechanism by which right holders could seek extensions of their deadlines. But he advised people not to “wait until the 11th hour” to ask for more time.

“You’ll have to show good cause, which … will vary according to circumstances,” he said, adding that applicants will have to show they’ve done the “due diligence” to prepare but that they face obstacles.

“By coming today, this is a good start,” he said. “There are a lot of vendors out there who are eager to tell you what they could set you up with.”

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