Historic Water Rights

Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear from somebody in San Joaquin County looking for historic documentation—photographs, maps, and other documentation—to bolster their claim for water rights. I am not an attorney, and I won't presume to offer legal advice, either for myself or for the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum. I asked Mia S. Brown, a local attorney with experience in water law, to share insights into this issue.

Here is her response:

On May 27, the State Water Resources Control Board mailed notices to water users within the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watershed, announcing a water shortage and informing users that they must immediately stop diverting water if they possess a "Post-1914 appropriative water right."

A "Post-1914 appropriative water right" is a water right established after the year 1914, and permitted or licensed by the State Water Resources Control Board. All affected Post-1914 appropriative water right holders must file an online certification form within seven (7) days of receipt of the notice. Failure to comply with the notice can result in severe civil penalties.

As of May 27, "Pre-1914" appropriative water right holders and riparian right holders are not subject to restriction, but it is likely that additional restrictions will be announced. Should you need assistance in determining which type of water right you have, or should you need assistance completing the Certification, please contact a local water law attorney.

At Mia's invitation, Rebekah Burr-Siegel, the executive director of the San Joaquin County Bar Association, has provided a map of local groundwater areas, with a list of attorneys who represent land owners in each. Both can be viewed by clicking here.

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