Archive for the ‘Wildlife Conservation Board’ Category

At their January Board meeting, the agency I work for, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), awarded a bunch of money to an organization that has been doing tons of bird and climate research and conservation work for decades. That organization is Point Blue Conservation Science (PBCS).

In the name of full disclosure, I have volunteered for PBCS for many, many years, and I have written about that work on this blog many, many times (for example here, here, here, and here). However, I was not involved in the review, selection, or approval of the funding from WCB.

These funds will be used to launch a whole bunch of different projects to restore meadows in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and also to support community-based ecosystem restoration on working lands, statewide. Read more about how PBCS plans to use these funds from their blog post!

This is a photo of Lower Perazzo Meadow which is an example of the type of habitat the funding from WCB to PBCS will be used to restore. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman.

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My work for the Wildlife Conservation Board is to manage the Stream Flow Enhancement Program. This program has the goal of providing grants to fund projects that will increase the amount or quality or timing of water in the streams, rivers, and other watercourses of California.

One way of achieving this goal is to fund projects that change how water users use the water in waterways.

What does that mean?

Water is a very valuable, and highly regulated, resource in California. In this state, humans do not have free rein to use as much water as they want at any time that they want for whatever reason that they want from any watercourse that they want. Instead, to use water humans need to work within a system of water rights. This system serves to make sure that each water user (called diverters) along a watercourse gets the water they need, and that no other diverter takes water that is reserved for someone else.

The State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) is a state agency that was established in 1914 (a date that will be significant in a bit). The SWRCB oversees water rights, approves and tracks changes to water rights, makes sure that water users are complying with the terms of their right, and conducts other related activities.

Landowners and/or water diverters have a few options available to them for how to go about legally using water in a watercourse.

Properties that boarder a watercourse can likely claim a riparian water right. Photo courtesy of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

One way is to show that they have a Riparian Water Right. This means that a parcel of property has a watercourse of some kind on it or along a boarder, and the landowner has the right to use some of the water in that watercourse (how much and for what purpose still needs to be spelled out in their riparian water right, but the landowner will get to use some of that water). Riparian water rights do have some significant limitations. One is that the water that is diverted out of a watercourse under a riparian water right must be used on that same parcel of property. It cannot be pumped away to use on some other piece of land. A second is that water diverted under a riparian water right cannot be stored and used later. Many California water systems have much more water in the winter and spring then they do in the summer and fall. One strategy that some people use is to collect water during the wet periods of the year, store that water, and use it during the dry periods of the year. This cannot be done under a riparian water right. The water must be used immediately.

If a riparian water right in not available, a diverter needs to secure an Appropriative Water Right. These come in two forms. If water has been diverted since prior to 1914 (see I said that date was going to come up again) without any interruptions that lasted for more than five years, then that water use could be claimed under a Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Right. The water could have been used for different purposes and at different locations over that time, but it does need to be proved to have been used. A Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Right does not need to be approved by the SWRCB. Also, the diverter can change the exact location where water is being pulled out of a watercourse (called the Point of Diversion), the location of where the water is being used, and the purpose to which the water will be used for, all without requiring prior approval from the SWRCB. A downside is that is may be difficult to prove continuous use of water since before the year 1914, and so Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Rights are more often challenged in court.

Water diversion structure along Battle Creek in northern California. Photo courtesy Aaron N.K. Haiman

If continuous use of water cannot be proved to date back to before 1914, a Post-1914 Appropriative Water Right will need to be obtained from the SWRCB. Post-1914 Appropriative Water Rights get complicated and nuanced. They can be acquired in one of two ways (registrations and permits/licenses), and each have numerous possible paths and varying requirements. However, while they are the most complex, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, Post-1914 Appropriative Water Rights are also the most secure method for someone who wants to divert water out of a watercourse. These water rights are obtained from the SWRCB and are supported by various legal documents which make them difficult to challenge or overturn.

All water rights holders, regardless of the type of water right, must submit an annual Statement of Diversion and Use form with the SWRCB. These are publicly available documents that allow for the tracking and enforcement of water rights throughout the state.

Sometimes, changes need to be made to an existing water right. There are several paths that can be followed if a change is needed, and they depend on what type water right is involved and what type of changes are being sought, but that will be material for another post.

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I have a new job! After over five years working for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy as an Environmental Scientist, I have accepted a promotion and changed agencies. I am now a Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist) managing the Stream Flow Enhancement Program at the Wildlife Conservation Board.

Wildlife Conservation Board - Home | Facebook

The mission statement of the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) is: The Wildlife Conservation Board protects, restores and enhances California’s spectacular natural resources for wildlife and for the public’s use and enjoyment in partnership with conservation groups, government agencies and the people of California. The WCB was founded in 1947. The Board itself is comprised of seven members including: the President of the Fish and Game Commission, the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Director of the Department of Finance, and four public members, two appointed by the legislature and two by the Governor. The primary roles of the WCB are to select, authorize and allocate funds for the purchase of land and waters suitable for recreation purposes and the preservation, protection and restoration of wildlife habitat. To these ends, WCB has numerous grant programs that focus on various different aspects of California’s landscape and the needs of the people and other species who call this state home.

Central Valley Tributaries Program

The Stream Flow Enhancement Program (SFEP) is one of those grant programs. It is funded through Proposition 1 (under which I was also working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy and have written about before) which was a water bond passed in 2014. Proposition 1 allocated $200 million to WCB to fund projects that result in enhanced stream flows (i.e., a change in the amount, timing, and/or quality of water flowing down a stream, or a portion of a stream, to benefit fish and wildlife). Basically, these Proposition 1 dollars are to be spent to make the streams and rivers across the state of California better for fish and wildlife.

I am really excited about this new position. The opportunity to work on projects that range throughout the entire state, the larger pool of funding that I will be overseeing, and the new set of challenges associated with protecting the waters of the state are all components of this new job that very much excite me. Some aspects will be hard. I am certainly going to learn a lot. And I think I am up to the challenge! I will keep you posted on how the job develops, what I learn and experience, the state of the streams and rivers of California, and how the many interacting forces at work impact the status of these vital ecosystems.

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