Scope and Content
Title: Records of the State Water Rights Board
Collection number: R374
State Water Rights Board
State Water Commission
Department of Public Work, Division of Water Resources
State Water Resources Control Board
36 cubic feet of textual records, 55 maps and blueprints, and 3 bound volumes.
California State Archives
Physical location: California State Archives
Languages represented in the collection:
For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication
is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility
for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives
[Identification of item], State Water Rights Board Records, R374.[Series Number], [box and folder number], California State
Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.
Acquisition and Custodial History
The California State Archives acquired the State Water Rights Board Records according to state law.
The Water Commission Act of 1913, Chapter 586 of Statutes 1913, created California's first water rights governing agency,
the State Water Commission. Prior to this law, any or every person could freely begin work to divert and use (beneficially
or otherwise) water in California. This commission began operation immediately and consisted of five persons who sought to
arbitrate the incessant disputes created by California's dual water rights system. The governor of California, the state
engineer, and three members appointed by the governor to four year terms made up the five member commission (Chapter 586,
Statutes 1913). According to the law, the three members appointed by the governor should have ample "knowledge and experience
in the application and use of waters for irrigation, mining, and municipal purposes" with at least one of them familiar with
water use for agricultural purposes (Chapter 586, Statutes 1913). The State Water Commission initiated procedures to issue
permits and licenses, most of which are still in use today.
The State Water Commission served a fourfold purpose. The Water Commission's functions included investigation and fact development
concerning water sources, regulating the acquisition of rights to appropriate water, providing a feasible method for the comprehensive
determination of existing rights, and supervising the distribution of water among those entitled to use it in accordance with
the indomitable right of each user ("Administration of Water Rights in California," California Law Review 44, Dec. 1956, P.834).
The State Water Commission existed until 1921 when California's Legislature passed an act (Chapter 607 Statutes 1921), which
created the Department of Public Works. The Department of Public Works succeeded to the duties, powers, and jurisdiction
of the State Water Commission. According to the Department of Public Works first Biennial Report, "By the terms of this statute
the State Water Commission, as such, was abolished and its functions and duties under the Water Commission Act became the
functions and duties of one of the divisions of the new Department of Public Works, namely, the Division of Water Resources"
(Report of Division of Water Rights of State Department of Public Works, P.7). This office functioned under the definitions
of and the authorities conferred by the Water Commission Act with the added task of acquiring and distributing new vested
rights for use of water, while protecting the water rights of those presently vested.
In the mid-1950s, California's Legislature worked toward reorganizing the agencies then responsible for administering water
law. In 1956, a law passed that mandated that many functions of the aforementioned Division of Water Resources pass to the
State Water Rights Board. Created on July 5, 1956, by Chapter 52, Statutes 1956, the State Water Rights Board consisted of
three members called upon to administer water rights as derived from the Water Commission Act. This legislation also created
the Department of Water Resources and abolished the Division of Water Resources of the Department of Public Works. The newly
established Department of Water Resources absorbed the duties and functions pertaining to water resources not expressly given
to the State Water Rights Board. Nevertheless, the State Water Rights Board existed and operated as an independent entity,
not bound to the Department of Water Resources.
Law required the Board be made up of one chair, one legal representative, and one engineer. These three members were appointed
by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. The first three to make up the Board included Henry Holsinger, the Chair
and Attorney for the Board, John B. Evans, and W.P. Rowe, the Board's chief engineer. Additionally, the State Water Rights
Board received assistance in application processing, adjudication, and investigation of water rights from associate engineers,
legal representatives, and administrative staff in various sectors of the government.
The duties and functions passed on to the State Water Rights Board were derived from the Water Commission Act. The initial
annual report of the board noted that it maintained the "sole responsibility of the following laws: (1) The Appropriation
of unappropriated water through the permit and license procedure (Water Code, Division 2, Part 2); (2) Assistance to the courts
and parties in adjudication of water rights (Water Code, Division 2, Part 3); and (3) Administration of an act enacted by
the 1955 Legislature concerning recordation of data relating primarily to use of ground water" in Riverside, San Bernardino,
Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties (State Water Rights Board, Annual Report to Governor, 1957, p. 4-5). Additional
general purposes and objectives of the Board consisted of furthering the orderly development of the state's water resources
in the public interest as provided in the Statutes assigned to it for administration (State Water Rights Board, Annual Report
to Governor, 1957, p. 7). A most important feature during the Board's tenure remained its functions to coordinate water use
and adjudicate water usage and rights disputes for improved decision making regarding water usage. State Water Rights Board
acted as referees, or mediators, to settle disputes. Hearings held by the Board sought to resolve matters brought forth,
but when an agreement could not be reached, the Board provided the Court an initial determination or opinion on any particular
water rights dispute.
In the mid to late 1960s, the impact of water quality on the state's constituents received increasing attention. Water quality
administration remained lackluster. The Assembly Water Committee convened to sort through the problem and discovered that
a coordinated water regulatory program combining water rights administration and water quality administration could help solve
many of California's water issues. Thus in 1967, the legislature enacted these changes and fused the State Water Rights Board
and the State Water Quality Control Board to create the State Water Resources Control Board (History of State Water Resources
Control Board, P.4). The new board's mandate followed similar lines of previous water rights entities with the addition of
an arduous task of balancing competing water needs of the public and private sectors as well as water resources for domestic,
agricultural, industrial, or electrical purposes.
California's problems and challenges concerning water usage and water rights continue to rise as the population rises and
viable water sources diminish. Nevertheless, a quote from Hugh W. Ferrier's article in 1956 remains valid. Ferrier noted,
"The work of the State Water Rights Board and its predecessors in water rights administration has been and is for sometime
anticipated to be in major part concentrated upon the administration of the law regulating appropriation of water" ("Administration
of Water Rights in California," California Law Review 44, Dec. 1956, P.834). The State Water Rights Board, like its predecessor
and successor agencies, firmly established administrative law in the field of water rights by reviewing and mediating disputes
and supervising the efficient utilization of the state's most precious and limited resource. Continued efficient administration
of California's water resources remains pertinent in a place where demand heavily outweighs supply and where the state's enormous
population and economy unremittingly rely on the availability of water.
Scope and Content
The records of the State Water Rights Board consist of 36 cubic feet, 55 maps and blueprints, and 3 bound volumes covering
the period 1915 through 1986. The earliest records reflect the work and management of water rights and resources by the State
Water Commission, which operated from 1913 to 1921. Records dating from 1921 and continuing forward to 1956 relate to the
Department of Public Works, Division of Water Resources. Records specifically created by the State Water Rights Board cover
the period 1956 through 1967. Records after 1967 come via the State Water Resources Control Board, the entity currently responsible
for administering and adjudicating water rights in California. The application files in this collection recount the appropriation
of unappropriated waters through the permit and license processes. These files consist primarily of original applications,
amended applications, analyses, engineers' reports, annual reports, inspection and investigation reports, correspondence,
and memoranda; however, reports of protest, newspaper clippings, hearing transcripts, exhibits, photographs, notes, and hand
drawn maps, survey maps, publications, and background information are found throughout the collection as well.
The scope of the records reveals the vital responsibilities of the State Water Rights Board. This Board oversaw and had total
responsibility for the administration and management of water in the State of California during its tenure. The application
files in this collection represent the three basic procedural steps in acquiring a right to use water by appropriation. The
three steps are submitting the application, issuance of a permit, and issuance of a license. The application serves as a
publicly declared intent to appropriate water. By filing the application, the applicant secures a right of procedural priority,
a conditional right to the future acquisition of a right to the use of water.
Issuance of a permit reflects the state's permission that an applicant start a project and to initiate the use of water.
This permit was subject to the limitations placed by the State Water Rights Board. Finally, the issuance of the license confirms
the applicants right to use water in the most beneficial manner. Under the supervision of the State Water Rights Board, predecessor,
and successor agencies, the licensee held their appropriative right as long as they demonstrated continued beneficial use
of their particular water source. During the State Water Right Board's term, it held the authority to "allow the appropriation
under such terms and conditions in its judgment will best develop, conserve, and utilize in the public interest the water
sought to be appropriated" ("Administration of Water Rights in California," P. 840).
With omnipresent contention over water in California, the Water Rights Board mediated disputes over the right to water use.
This collection reflects the many matters disputed and brought forth for reconciliation by the Board. In many files, the
researcher will find protests and intense correspondence relative to water disputes and controversies. The State Water Rights
Board held hearings for all protested applications. Cases brought before the board were often two-party disputes, but at
times suits emerged with numerous plaintiffs and defendants. Litigation involving the same water sources and some of the
same parties or their successors recur in these files. This record group exudes excellent information on water allocation
and management as it illustrates the many ways in which Californians used water and how they implemented tools for such use.
Among the primary purposes for appropriating water were for electrical power, mining, agricultural, irrigation, and domestic
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Water Rights Board