SBVMWD/WMWD Santa Ana River Diversions

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Valley District has provided leadership in the management of water resources throughout its service area since its formation in 1954. In addition to its State Water Project contract that is used to provide supplemental water within its service area, Valley District has diligently pursued the acquisition of additional local surface water in an effort to increase water supply reliability for its customers. Starting in 1991, Valley District led the charge to secure additional water from the Santa Ana River that would be made available by the Seven Oaks Dam to be constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. To accomplish this monumental task, many years of dedicated effort were required. The first hurdle was convincing the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) that the Seven Oaks Dam actually would create the opportunity for more water to be captured and put to beneficial use.

This was no easy task as the SWRCB had declared the Santa Ana River fully appropriated in 1989 and again in 1998. Per this Declaration, the river was considered fully appropriated year-round and additional water rights could not be granted without changing the designation. In fact, the California Water Code prevented the SWRCB from even accepting any new applications to appropriate water from watercourses listed in the Declaration.

Undaunted, Valley District submitted an application on behalf of itself and Western Municipal Water District of Riverside County (Western) to appropriate up to 100,000 acre-feet annually from the Santa Ana River (First Application). In May 1995, the SWRCB adopted procedures for reviewing the fully appropriated stream status and Valley District and Western subsequently submitted a petition to revise the Declaration (First Petition) together with the 1991 Water Rights Application.

The First Petition was followed in 1999 by a similar petition by Orange County Water District (OCWD). The SWRCB held hearings on the petitions in December 1999. Valley District provided evidence that demonstrated that urbanization, the attendant increased runoff, and increased releases of treated wastewater had increased flows in the Santa Ana River watershed. Additionally, the operation of Seven Oaks Dam would increase the availability of water for diversion during wet years. Based on evidence in the hearing record, the SWRCB amended the Fully Appropriated Stream Declaration in Order WR 2000–12 and allowed the water right applications submitted by Valley District and Western and OCWD to be processed (SWRCB 2000). However, SWRCB Order WR 2000-12 did not determine the specific amount of water available for appropriation by petitioners.

 

In May 2001, Valley District and Western jointly submitted a second application to appropriate 100,000 acre-feet of water annually in addition to the 100,000 acre-feet per year previously requested under the First Application, along with a second petition to revise the Declaration (Second Petition). The Second Petition and Second Application were based on updated hydrologic analyses submitted during the 1999 hearings. These analyses indicated that in certain years more than 200,000 acre-feet of water is available for appropriation in the SAR. Based on the hydrologic evidence, the SWRCB issued Order WR 2002-06, which revised the Declaration pursuant to the Second Petition (and similar petitions by other parties) and accepted the following applications for processing:
  • The Valley District/Western application requesting a right to use a maximum of 100,000 acre-feet annually for direct use underground storage (Second Application)
  • The Chino Basin Watermaster application requesting a right to divert 97,000 acre-feet per year to groundwater storage
  • The San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District (Conservation District) application proposing groundwater and surface storage of 55,464 acre-feet annually
  • City of Riverside application proposing direct diversion of 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) throughout the year for a total maximum direct diversion of 41,400 acre-feet per year
  • Four minor applications for diversions of up to 102 acre-feet annually throughout the year from the west and east forks of Cable Creek within the SAR watershed.
Order WR 2002-06 did not determine the specific amount of water available for appropriation or whether the amount of water available for appropriation is sufficient to approve the applications. As in Order WR 2000-12, prior to any potential approval of the applications, the SWRCB requires that applications meet all necessary obligations under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

 

In October 2004, Valley District/Western published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in support of the water rights applications. A total of 28 comment letters were received from interested parties on the Draft EIR from November 2004 to January 2005. Responses to those comments were included in the Final EIR dated January 2007. After hearing additional testimony, the Boards of Valley District and Western certified the Final EIR on March 21, 2007.

The SWRCB held a Public Hearing on all water rights applications listed above on May 2-4, 2007. At this hearing, the SWRCB received evidence relevant to determining whether water rights permits should be granted to all or any of the applicants. A decision from the SWRCB will likely take several months to be published after the conclusion of the hearing.