Water Transfers

Water Transfers in California
Water transfers between willing sellers and willing buyers can help stretch California's water supplies in dry times and move water to places of critical need. Each year hundreds of water transfers occur in California. The majority of these transfers are between agricultural water users in the same basin.

DWR's Role in Facilitating Transfers
Water transfers that involve changes in point of diversion, place of use, or purpose of use to a post-1914 water right most often require the approval of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Transfers that require the use of State, regional, or a local public agency's conveyance facilities require the owner of the conveyance facilities to determine that the transfers will not harm any other legal user of water, will not unreasonably affect fish and wildlife, and will not unreasonably affect the overall economy of the county from which the water is transferred.

Parties interested in developing water transfer proposals that require conveyance through SWP facilities may contact Nancy Quan in the State Water Project Analysis Office at (916) 653-0190 or Nancy.Quan@water.ca.gov.

Water Transfers News
New!2016 Water Transfer White Paper
The most current draft of the Water Transfer White Paper developed by the Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of Reclamation is now available. View the document here.

A Water Transfers Update to the Delta Stewardship Council
When adopting the Delta Plan in 2012, the Delta Stewardship Council made a determination that temporary water transfers conducted over the following four years would not have a significant impact on the coequal goals. The determination will expire on December 31, 2016 unless the Council takes further action. To update and inform the Council of the technical aspects of water transfers and the potential for environmental impacts to the Delta from temporary water transfers, DWR and the State Water Resources Control Board prepared two documents: Background and Recent History of Water Transfers in California, dated July 2015; and Water Transfers and the Delta Plan, dated September 16, 2015. For more information about the Delta Council click here.

To get up to date information on current water transfers activities and agency involvement click here.

Fact Sheet
A fact sheet describing DWR's role in the water transfer process is available here.

Charts and Graphs
Background information on water transfer activity in 2012 and 2013 is available here.

Types of Water Transfers

Groundwater Substitution
Groundwater substitution transfers make surface water available for transfer by reducing surface water diversions and replacing that water with groundwater pumping. The rationale is that surface water demands are reduced because a like amount of groundwater is used to meet the demands. The resulting increase in available surface water supplies can be transferred to other users.

Cropland Idling/Crop Shifting
Cropland idling includes the idling of land that would have been planted during the transfer period in the absence of the transfer. Crop shifting is the shifting from historically planted higher-water-intensive crops to lower-water-using crops. It does not include land fallowed as part of normal farm operations, which does not make water available for transfer. Cropland idling or crop shifting water transfers make water available by reducing the consumptive use of surface water applied for irrigation.

Reservoir Storage Release
Water is made available for transfer by reservoir release when the reservoir operators release water in excess of what would be released annually under normal operations. The water must also be released at a time when it can be captured and/or diverted downstream.