As the drought continues in California, water rights will probably become more interesting to many of us, like this local Willits reader who said, “Recently at a road association meeting in my Willits neighborhood, water rights came up. A neighbor said that the superior water right holder for our area was the Brooktrails Township, even though I live miles away from the Township on Sherwood Road within the Spring Creek Subdivision.
“So here are my questions: How would a property owner determine who holds the superior water rights in their area? And what are the implications of such a designation? Also, what criteria are used to determine who holds such rights?”
In response, John Baron of Redwood Empire Title Company, shared his knowledge (and information from the California Water Resources Control Board).
1. Many water rights records are housed at the State Water Resources Control Board. The records are not searched by title companies and do not show up on preliminary title reports.
2. State water licenses cannot be transferred in escrow. The new buyer has to apply to the state after buying the property to transfer the license.
3. Water flowing above the ground is regulated by the state, including springs that flow above the ground from the property where the spring originates onto other lands. If the spring begins on your property and stops flowing above the ground on your property, then it isn’t regulated.
4. Wells that lie within the underflow of streams and rivers are regulated similarly to pumping out of a river. I’m not sure how they determine at what point you are in the underflow or not, but I once saw the Garcia River on a map with all kinds of lines showing how far the underflow extended. I don’t know how they figure out what is going on under the ground.
5. Riparian rights are very complicated; just because you border a stream doesn’t mean you have riparian rights to pump out of it. You probably don’t.
6. The Department of Fish and Game can affect your water rights as well. I don’t know how to determine their current rulings on any particular stream at any particular time. They can tell you not to shoot deer on your land; they can also tell you not to use water if it interferes with fish or game, especially endangered species. This pretty much trumps any other rights you may have.
7. The state mostly hasn’t started regulating well water yet, unless it is in the underflow of a stream and as long as you use it for a beneficial purpose within the same watershed. This could change if the drought continues.
8. There are only two Brooktrails water rights I know of: (1) one from 1963 for Willits Creek and a tributary, which flow into lake Emily and Lake Ada Rose and provide the water for the subdivision; it is filed with the state, and (2) the right to all the underground and surface water in the entire subdivision, which was reserved from lot owners, and I think eventually deeded to the district by the property developer. I don’t know if anything was filed with the state about that. If you are outside the subdivision in Spring Creek and have a well that is not in the underflow of a stream, I don’t see how the license held by Brooktrails would have any effect on you.
I think Harrah used to own the Spring Creek subdivision and theoretically he could have deeded all of the underground water to Brooktrails, but I have never seen anything to that effect. Water licenses are public information; anyone who wants to see the Brooktrails water license(s) should be able to get a copy from the water board.
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