On a recent morning, Jim Edwards and about 70 of his fellow farmers and ranchers from Northern California went back to school.
Each was handed a binder full of worksheets as they embarked on a three-hour course to learn how to measure and report their own water diversions – a state requirement now for landowners with rights to draw water from a river or stream.
There were lectures by University of California Cooperative Extension advisors and were even quizzes at the end of each unit so the landowners could demonstrate what they’d learned about open-ditch flow readings, measuring weirs, in-pipe flow meters, the calibration and accuracy of measuring devices, and measuring reservoir diversion quantities.
“I think it’s great,” said Edwards, who takes water from Antelope Creek near Red Bluff to raise cattle, orchards and hay.
Edwards and others were gathered in a classroom at the farm at Shasta College in Redding, Calif., where the first of two course sessions was held April 4. A similar course was given for about 50 people at the fairgrounds in Woodland, Calif., that afternoon.
“I think this is a good crash course to get people to understand flow measurements and what is required of them to report,” says Khaled Bali, a UCCE irrigation specialist who helps lead a course unit on device accuracy.
With the recent historic drought fresh on members' minds, the State Water Resources Control Board in 2016 ramped up reporting requirements for the state's roughly 12,000 property owners and users with senior riparian water rights.
The rules now require annual reporting of surface water diversions rather than every three years, and landowners can no longer avoid the mandate by claiming an economic hardship.
Those who divert more than 100 acre-feet per year were ordered to hire a licensed engineer to install a water-measuring device by Jan. 1 or July 1, 2018, depending on the size of the diversion. Smaller diverters had to begin measuring and reporting their water use by Jan. 1, 2019. Larger diverters had to comply by earlier deadlines, on Jan. 1 and July 1, 2017, respectively.
A subsequent bill sponsored by the California Cattlemen's Association enabled landowners to install their own devices or use an alternative method if they take a course developed by the water board and UC. Landowners could ask for deadline extensions to take the course.
“It was kind of interesting to me watching the legislative process work, UCCE farm advisor Larry Forero told Redding class attendees. He noted that the bill by Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, passed through the Legislature with no one voting in opposition.
More precision required
Beginning in 1966, state law required those who diverted surface water or pumped groundwater from known subterranean streams to file reports. The water board in 2012 started requiring precise monthly records of diversions rather than estimates and began assessing fines against those who failed to comply.
Then came Senate Bill 88 in 2015, which empowered the water board to force those who pull as little as 10 acre-feet per year to report the diversions. The CCA came up with the idea of having landowners take a class after some members complained about the cost of hiring an engineer.
“The water board staff had to agree to the course’s content, and there had to be quizzes,” Forero added.
About 1,200 people took the class last year at 14 locations from Yreka to Bakersfield. Forero tells Western Farm Press he used feedback from those participants as he put together this year's course.
"One of the things that surprised me is how a lot of these systems are unique," he says, referring to water diversion systems. "You would think after talking to that many people that we'd be saying, 'Yeah, they're really all the same,' but no. I was really surprised."
The UCCE will offer the course in Santa Barbara in June, and more sessions will be scheduled as demand builds, Bali says.
The courses aim to clarify water reporting requirements for ranches, offer opinions on which meters work best in different situations and teach participants how to determine measurement equipment accuracy, according to the UCCE.
Attendees also develop an understanding of measurement weirs and learn how to calculate and report volume from flow data, a university news release explains.
The course covers several different methods of measuring flows – calculating the amount of water moving in an open ditch, using a measurement weir, using a flow meter on a pipe if water is being pumped in, and measuring water in a stock pond or other reservoir.
Measuring flows in a ditch, for example, requires the right equipment and a math equation. If the average depth of the ditch is 6 inches, the width is 2 feet and the water velocity is a half-foot per second, that means the canal is taking in a half-cubic foot per second. At that rate, in 24 hours it would divert one acre-foot of water.
One tip Forero has for landowners is to purchase an engineer’s ruler, which eases conversion of readings to decimal by dividing a foot by 10.
Flow meters vary
For those pumping water in through pipes, flow meters come in various shapes and sizes and with various price tags, explains Allen Fulton, a UCCE irrigation and water resources advisor. But they all have the same function – to measure the rate at which water is sent from the pump to the orchards or other crops.
While the earliest devices were mostly impellers – propeller-like devices put inside the line that spin as water passes through – many meters today use sound waves or magnetic fields to measure flow, Fulton says.
Depending on their size and complexity, flow meters can cost from $700 to about $2,000, he says. Sometimes landowners “are quick to jump to flow meters” when using a measurement weir might be a better or cheaper option, he says.
“Measuring flow inside a pipe is the same as measuring flow in an open ditch,” Fulton says. “You just can’t see it.”
Redding class attendee Lucia Loeb, who co-owns a Trinity County ranch that raises fruit, vegetables and livestock, says growers should perhaps do some studying on their own ahead of time because the course moves fairly quickly.
“I feel like I don’t have much experience” with water diversion issues, she says. “I feel like they covered everything pretty thoroughly.”
Forero says that he himself had trouble grasping some water-flow calculations other advisors had done. “I can follow instructions,” he told the class. “I don’t necessarily have to understand the equation.
"From my perspective, it's been really interesting and interactive," Forero says of the course. "I think one of the huge benefits of the class is that folks will say, 'Yeah, I can do this myself,' or 'No, my system is more complex. I need to hire someone to do it.'"
Detailed information on the regulatory requirements for measurement and reporting are available on the water board's Reporting and Measurement Regulation webpage.