Determine the Water Source for Cannabis Cultivation

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When applying for a commercial marijuana land use ordinance, the water source must comply with all State and Local law with the proper permits if needed. Typical water sources include rainwater collection, permitted water wells or water diversion/ withdrawal.


The permitting process for cultivation was developed to ensure that the individual and cumulative effects don’t have a negative impact on the environment. There are five types of permits: cultivation, processing, manufacturing, distribution, and nursery. The type of permit that you have, along with the parcel of land will decide the type of water permitting is needed or not.


Three main steps to legalize your farm:


 Register your farm.

The following state agencies issue licenses:

Department of Food and Agriculture: Cultivation.


Department of Public Health: Manufacturing.


Department of Consumer Affairs: Distribution, Testing, and Retail.


 Apply for a permit locally based on local requirements and the type.


For outdoor and mixed-light cultivation area permits, documented current water right or other non-diversionary sources of irrigation water (i.e. municipal, public utility or permitted well) must be included for a permit.


 Meet all Performance Standards

Rainwater Harvesting as a Water Source for Cannabis Cultivation

Rainwater collection for cannabis doesn’t require a water rights permit. You just need a system that can handle the cultivation production that you are applying for.

 The reason that a water rights permit is unnecessary for rainwater harvesting is the State of California AB-1750 Rainwater Capture Act of 2012 (link to AB-1750). The State Statute provides that rainwater captured off of rooftops doesn’t require a water right permit.

Rainwater harvesting is also being encouraged in other ways across California. In June of 2018 the amendment of the California Proposition 72, Rainwater Capture Systems Excluded from Property Tax Assessments Amendment, passed. This amendment excludes rainwater systems from property tax reassessment starting January of 2019. (Link to Prop 72)

Rainwater catchment systems collect run-off from rooftops which is then stored for later use. Since collecting rainwater in this way does not require additional state permitting, it is a cost-effective solution to meeting some of your water needs. It is also encouraged by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board as well as most local authorities in charge of cultivation permitting.


> See Humboldt County Encouraging Rainwater Harvesting as a Water Source

Surface Water Diversion for Cannabis Cultivation

Filing a Water Rights Permit in California
Filing a Water Rights Permit in California

A statement of diversion of surface water is required by California Water Code Section 5101. California law has required those who divert surface water or pump groundwater from a known subterranean stream to file a Statement of Water Diversion and Use, or diverters to file an application to appropriate water with the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights.


Cannabis cultivators that plan to divert surface water need a water right to irrigate cannabis. The Cannabis Policy requires cannabis cultivators to stop diverting surface water during the dry season. This means that water must be diverted during the wet season and stored for use during the dry season. Water is required to be stored off-stream.


Cannabis cultivation legislation enacted California Water Code (Water Code) section 13149 (link), which directs the State Water Board, in consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), to adopt interim and long-term principles and guidelines for the diversion and use of water for cannabis cultivation in areas where cannabis cultivation may have the potential to substantially affect instream flows. The State Water Board holds the dual mandates of allocating surface water rights and protecting water quality.


Including Surface Water Diversion for Site Plan Submittal

Site Plans must be submitted for standard applications that include:


  • The entire parcel, including easements, streams, springs, ponds and other surface water features.

“A cultivation and operations plan that meets or exceeds minimum legal standards for water storage, conservation and use; drainage, runoff and erosion control; watershed and habitat protection; proper storage of fertilizers, pesticides and other regulated products to be used on the parcel and a description of cultivation activities with the approximate dates cannabis cultivation activities have been conducted on the parcel prior to February 2016.”

  • Copy of the statement of water diversion, or other permits, license or registration filed with the California State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights.

  • Description of a water source, storage, irrigation plan and projected water usage.

  • Copy of Notice of Intent and Monitoring Self-Certification and other documents filed with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board demonstrating enrollment in Tier 1, 2, or 3

Water Wells as a Water Source for Cannabis

If the source of water is a well, a County well permit needs to be included for plan submittal.

The California Department of Water Resources has the authority for developing well standards. California Water Well Standards, published as DWR Bulletin 74 (link), represent minimum standards for water well construction, alteration, and destruction to protect groundwater. In California, cities, counties, and water agencies have regulatory authority over wells and can adopt local water well ordinances that meet or exceed the statewide Well Standards.

When a well is constructed, modified or destroyed, drilling contractor are required to submit a Well Completion Report. Contractors can submit these and the public can access them through our Online System for Well Completion Reports (OSWCR).

“Use wells carefully. Wells in riparian areas or upslope of surface watercourses are often hydrologically connected to surface water and should be avoided or treated like a surface water diversion. Take note that all wells require permits from your local County Environmental Health Department as well as a filing with the state.” – From the California Watershed Best Practices

When an individual or business takes water from a lake, river, stream, or creek, or from underground supplies for a beneficial use, the California Water Code (Division 2) requires a water right permit.

Although cultivators often have multiple options to establish a water right for their water supply, the State Water Board anticipates that many cultivators will choose the Cannabis SIUR (Small Irrigation Use Registration) because it is a faster and easier way to obtain a water right in comparison to the application process for a new appropriative water right, which can take many years.

In accordance with this Policy, cultivators who rely on surface water to irrigate their cannabis operation are required to divert to storage during the wet season (portions of fall/winter/spring) and forebear from diverting during the dry season (summer/portions of fall).

Riparian water rights do not allow for water storage, riparian water right holders who intend to cultivate cannabis will also be required to obtain an appropriative (storage) water right (most likely through the Cannabis SIUR) in order to comply with the Policy.

Cultivators should be aware that Cannabis SIURs, like other appropriative water rights:

1) will not be issued for fully appropriated streams in the restricted diversion season, as it has been determined that water is unavailable for appropriation;

2) may not be available on rivers and streams designated as Wild and Scenic under The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (Public Law 90-542;16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.); and

3) are not available where the water source is in a CDFW Instream Flow Study area with a final flow

Water Code section 1707 allows any person entitled to the use of water, whether based upon an appropriative, riparian, or other rights, to petition the State Water Board for a change for purposes of preserving or enhancing wetlands habitat, fish and wildlife resources, or recreation in, or on, the water. > Learn More

Cannabis cultivators shall not divert surface water unless it is diverted in accordance with an existing water right that specifies, as appropriate, the source, location of the point of diversion, the purpose of use, place of use, and quantity and season of diversion. Cannabis cultivators shall maintain documentation of the water right at the cannabis cultivation site.


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