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March 9, 2016  |  Written by Jason Canger

State Water Board Updates and Readopts Emergency Regulation Requiring Reporting of Water Diversion and Use Information in Russian River Tributaries

At its March 1, 2016 board meeting, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted a resolution to update and readopt a drought-related emergency regulation requiring landowners located within the four Russian River tributary watersheds of Dutch Bills Creek, Green Valley Creek, Mill Creek, and portions of Mark West Creek to report information regarding their water diversion and use.

According to the State Water Board, the ongoing nature and severity of the current drought increases the risk of extinction to juvenile Central California Coast coho salmon and California Central Coast steelhead. The four tributaries to the Russian River provide critical spawning and rearing habitat to the endangered and threatened fish. Although the fish can survive very dry periods, the pools in the upper reaches of these watersheds must have sufficient water to maintain adequate temperatures, stream connectivity, sufficient dissolved oxygen, and other water quality conditions for the fish to survive the hot summers.

The State Water Board adopted an original version of the emergency regulation on June 17, 2015. The regulation prohibited the use of potable and non-potable water sourced from any of the four tributary watersheds. The regulation also authorized the State Water Board to issue informational orders to collect current information regarding the water diversion and use. Pursuant to this authority, the Deputy Director of the State Water Board Division of Water Rights issued an order on August 24, 2015, requiring more than 10,000 landowners and water suppliers in the four watersheds to provide information on their sources and uses of water. Approximately 90 percent of landowners and suppliers have responded, but many responses were deemed incomplete or inaccurate. Given that approximately 10 percent of water users have yet to respond and that dry conditions may persist, the State Water Board readopted the regulation before it expired on April 1, 2016.

The readopted regulation does not re-authorize the conservation measures prohibiting the use of potable and non-potable water sourced from the four tributary watersheds. Accordingly, that provision of the 2015 regulation will expire on April 1, 2016. The new emergency regulation only continues the authority of the State Water Board to issue orders for the collection of information related to diversion and use of water within the four tributaries, including but not limited to (1) date of first use, (2) location of diversion, (3) type of diversion, (4) types of beneficial uses, (5) distance of well from the nearest stream, (6) depth of well, (7) well screen interval(s), (8) place of use, (9) estimated diversion amount, (10) estimated use amount, (11) sources of water, (12) volume of storage, (13) estimated pumping/diversion rate, (14) amount of water anticipated to be needed during a given year, or (15) any other information relevant to forecasting use and impacts to the surface streams in the current drought year or in contingency planning for continuation of the existing drought emergency. Once submitted to the Office of Administrative Law, the updated and readopted emergency regulation will likely be approved and take effect within fifteen days.

For more information regarding the State Water Board’s update and readoption of its emergency regulation for the four Russian River tributary watersheds, please contact Jason Canger at jcanger@somachlaw.com.

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