Salmonid Restoration Federation

Complying with Water Rights Law

In order to legally divert water from a stream, you must have a water right allowing you to do so.  Some water rights come automatically with your ownership of property along a stream – these are called riparian rights.  Other rights have to be obtained from the State Water Board – these are called appropriative rights. 

You can claim a riparian water right for your diversion if:

• The diversion is from a stream on your property
• The water is used only on your property, and
• You do not store water for use during the dry season (but tanks holding up to 30 days’ supply of water generally don’t count as storage)

You don’t need a permit from the state to use your riparian water rights. They come automatically with the ownership of property along a stream.  However, you must report all water used under a riparian right to the State Water Board every year.  You do this by filling out a Statement of Diversion and Use form.  Click here for additional information on filling out the SDU form.

If you are lucky enough to live on a stream that provides a reliable year-round water supply, you may be able to achieve compliance with water rights law based on a riparian right alone.  Typically this is not the case, however, because most residents will find they need to store water.  This is usually because the stream does not flow reliably in the summer dry season, and/or because the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) limits your summer diversion season under a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement.  

If you do need to store water, you must obtain an appropriative right from the State Water Board.  The most common way to do that is to file a Small Domestic Use Registration (SDU) with the Water Board.  You can qualify for an SDU registration if:

• You use water only for domestic use (which can include up to 1/2 acre of garden and landscaping)
• The domestic use is associated with a dwelling (usually a house),
• The use is non-commercial (e.g., water is not being used to grow cannabis or other crops for sale), and
• You divert less than 4500 gallons per day and store less than 10 acre-feet per year (which is vastly more water than most users need)

More information on filling out the SDU registration form can be found here.

Finally, don’t assume that because you divert your water from a spring or a well, you are not diverting from a stream, and do not need a water right.  Instead, click here.