In late spring of 2013, spurred by fish kills resulting from illegal and poorly constructed water diversions in both China Creek and Seely Creek (tributaries of Redwood Creek on the South Fork Eel River), the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Division of Water Rights issued notices of “Potential Unauthorized Diversion and Use of Water” and “Failure to File a Statement of Water Diversion and Use in Humboldt County” to dozens of landowners in the China Creek watershed. This incident brought to light that hundreds of landowners on the North Coast are not in compliance with state water law and thereby vulnerable to enforcement, especially if their water diversions may harm state and/or federally listed fish.
Established as a legal means for protecting our rivers as a shared resource and public trust value, water diversion permitting requirements have existed in California for many years, but historically were not enforced in Humboldt County until recently. Prior to the enforcement sweep, many landowners were not aware they had to report their water diversions and register their storage water rights to comply with state water law and avoid potentially onerous fines.
SRF is working to provide hands-on assistance to rural landowners who are interested in complying with state water law. The Water Rights Education Campaign is an ongoing component of The Redwood Creek Water Conservation Project, a local effort initiated in 2013 to address low stream flows that affect local residents and fish.