State Water Project water rights assume augmentation of Sac River flows by 890,000 af/year

One of the largest water rights hearings in the California State Water Resources Control Board’s history was the hearing on eight applications by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for the State Water Project. The then-called State Water Rights Board approved the permit for the State Water Project in Water Rights Decision 1275 on May 31st, 1967, after holding 40 days of hearings from July 26, 1966 to April 19, 1967. (SWRCB 1967, p. 4.)

Water Rights Decision 1275 has a lot of relevant information on the State Water Project’s water rights. Notably, DWR’s permit applications included plans for three facilities that have never been built. The first was a Peripheral Canal “planned for completion in 1973″ which would “divert water from the Sacramento River near Hood along the eastern boundary of the Delta to Italian Slough, releasing water into Delta channels en route.” The second was a “substitute water distribution system” to serve the western islands of the Delta, since it was known that the water in the Western Delta would be too saline for agricultural use if water was diverted as planned from the North Delta. The third project was the Dos Rios Dam on the Eel River.

Decision 1275 noted:

The locations of two of the points of diversion and rediversion are not shown in the applications. They are (1) Delta Water Facilities and (2) Substitute Water Distribution System to serve western portions of the Delta. Plans for the Delta Water Facilities to transport water from the Sacramento River in the vicinity of Hood to the intake of the California Aqueduct and to supply the western portion of the Delta have not been finally determined. The final locations of pumps and conduits associated with the Substitute Water Distribution System to serve the western portion of the Delta will be determined after further study. The applications state that when these systems have been selected, information will be filed with the Board describing the features associated with these systems. (p. 8, underlining added)

In granting the permits, the Water Board accepted DWR’s assumptions that flows in the Sacramento River would be supplemented by water from a dam on the Eel River. This is from p.16-17:Quantities of water available in the DeltaThe assertion that only 1,800 cfs would be needed for Delta outflow was based on providing a separate supply to the Western Delta. This project was abandoned after the permits were issued.

The “Upper Eel River development” was the Dos Rios Dam on the Eel River, which was proposed to be built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and operated for the Department of Water Resources. The table below is from Table 5 of Bulletin 132-66, showing the projected supplies at the Delta for the State Water Project. The “initial project conservation facilities” included Oroville Dam, San Luis Dam, and the Delta pumping plant (later named the Harvey O. Banks pumping plant.)  The “additional conservation facilities” were footnoted as “the Upper Eel River Development” and proposed to supply an additional 890,900 acre-feet a year.

Table 5 Delta pool supply

Unfortunately for DWR’s plans, opposition to the Dos Rios Dam grew in 1968 and 1969. The proposed dam would have flooded 18,000 acres in Round Valley, displacing 1,050 people in the community of Covelo and 350 residents of the Round Valley Indian Reservation. (DWR 1970.) Richard Wilson, a rancher in Covelo, organized opposition to the dam, and in 1969 his coalition got Governor Reagan to intervene to mandate the development of alternatives. (Hannaford 1995.) In 1972, the state legislature designated the Eel River as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as portions of the Klamath, Smith, and Trinity rivers. The Eel and undeveloped portions of the Trinity Rivers were designated federal Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1981. (CalWild 2022.) DWR shelved remaining plans for development of North Coast rivers.

Further Reading

California Wilderness Coalition [CalWild]. [accessed Oct 13 2022] Wild and Scenic River Chronology.

Department of Water Resources [DWR]. 1970. Bulletin 160-70. Water for California: The California Water Plan Outlook in 1970, December 1970.

Department of Water Resources [DWR]. 1966. Bulletin 132-66, The California State Water Project in 1966. June 1966.

Hannaford, P. Killing the Giant Dam, Letter to the Editor. New York Times, May 7, 1995.

State Water Resources Control Board [SWRCB]. Water Rights Decision 1275. May 31, 1967.





2 thoughts on “State Water Project water rights assume augmentation of Sac River flows by 890,000 af/year

  1. And even though the dam was never built they still used the amount of the never to be flows from the Eel to establish water rights. Thus the term “Paper Water” came about. It only exists in writing.

  2. When it comes to water development planning in California, history shows the foolishness of wishful thinking, especially on the part of the California Department of Water Resources, a screwed up agency if there ever was one.

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