Trinity River diverters reported using one trillion acre feet of water, more than all of the earth's water

Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River. Photo by Dan Bacher. | 
By Dan Bacher |  

In the wacky world of California water, you never know what outrageous claims a water diverter might come up with.

Just ask the State Water Resources Control Board, who recently reached a $10,000 settlement agreement with two Trinity County property owners over allegations that they “deliberately made misstatements” in reporting water diversion and use for diversion years 2009 through 2015. The two first reported using monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of over one trillion acre-feet, greater than the volume of all the water on earth, according to a statement from the Water Board!

The settlement was approved by the State Water Board and incorporated as an order last month.

Louis and Darcy Chacon claim a riparian right on Price Creek, a tributary to the Trinity River, the Klamath River’s largest tributary. They use the water for irrigation of 15 acres of mixed crops, stockwatering, and domestic use.  

“As required, the Chacons filed Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use,” according to a Water Board press release. “However, for diversion years 2009 through 2013, they reported monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of over one trillion acre-feet, which is greater than the volume of all the water on earth.”

The water board’s complaint, filed in February 2018, went into more specifics on this claim:  

“The Diverters filed Supplemental Statements for S000042 for the diversion years 2009 through 2013 on or before June 20, 2014, and they initially reported instantaneous rates of direct diversion up to 1x1020 cubic feet per second (cfs) and monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of 1x1020acre-feet (af). The reported quantities are not physically possible; 1x1020 af is orders of magnitude larger than the volume of water on planet Earth. In addition, diversion and use under a riparian claim for right such as the Diverters’ does not extend to storage.”

In response to receiving a notification of a reporting violation, the Chacons revised the reported amounts to 21,383.04 acre-feet, “still orders of magnitude greater than reasonable,” the Water Board stated. The Chacons continued reporting this inflated diversion and use amount for years 2014 and 2015.

Julé Rizzardo, Assistant Deputy Director of the Division of Water Rights, Permitting and Enforcement Branch, said the settlement “sends a strong message to individuals who trivialize this important reporting requirement by declaring deliberate misstatements about actual water used.”

“Inaccurate water use data impacts the division’s ability to effectively regulate water diversions and undermines the public’s trust in the water rights system. In high resource value watersheds like the Trinity River, accurate data is essential to ensuring senior water rights and the environment are protected,” said Rizzardo.

The settlement agreement assesses a penalty of $10,000, with a portion of the penalty to be suspended and released upon completion of several corrective actions by the Chacons.

The corrective actions include hiring a qualified individual to advise the landowners on reporting accurate diversion amounts, revising the Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use that contain deliberate misstatements, and installing a measuring device to ensure accurate diversion reporting in the future.

Once these corrective actions are completed, the Chacons may reduce their fine by up to $7,500, according to the Board.  

The Board noted that the California Water Code defines the making of a “willful misstatement” in a Statement of Diversion and Use as a misdemeanor. The State Water Board may impose an administrative civil liability for this violation in an amount not to exceed $25,000, plus $1,000 per day that the violation continues.

“The state’s water use data is critical to water right permitting decisions, developing instream flow requirements, assessing compliance, and issuing notices of unavailability of water. Diverters can contact the State Water Board with questions on how to accurately report their diversions,” the Board concluded.

In my over 30 years of water reporting, this one trillion acre-feet of water use claim is the most outrageous one I’ve heard yet from a water diverter or contractor. 

The order approving theChacons’ settlement agreement, along with the two supporting documents, is available online.  None of the three documents provided online provide a clue as to why the two landowners submitted such over-the-top water use claims.

While the Chacon’s claim of using monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of over one trillion acre-feet is the most absurd one I’ve encountered, it brings to mind the many problems with “paper water” that we find in California water politics.

“Paper water” is water that exists as water rights claims in legal documents but not in the real world, according to the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) website. There is far more water promised “on paper” to stakeholders than there is in California’s waterways.   

“For every acre-foot of real water in the Central Valley watershed, 8.4 acre-feet of water on paper has been promised by the state where only 1 acre-foot may actually be diverted, according to the State Water Resources Control Board,” the website notes.

“The fact that this discrepancy has languished for decades is a sign of magical thinking on the part of water industry officials and regulators in California. It's far past time for this practice to stop,” C-WIN states.

For more information about “paper water” and what we can do to end this practice, go to:

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