During the drought, are there restrictions on irrigation and agricultural ponds in California?

Yes—and there is a distinction between regulations for small domestic decorative ponds versus larger ponds for irrigation and agricultural uses. Many of these restrictions are designed with the drought in mind as regulators seek to avoid agriculture and other industries from draining local bodies of water or local aquifers. Thus, depending on your location, you may find geographical limitations on where or how streams and creeks can be diverted to fill ponds. In some cases, you may end up relying entirely on wells or rainwater collection to fill ponds as the local governing agency may not permit the use of water from natural creeks and streams at all.

In general, irrigation ponds are most likely to qualify for a permit to divert a stream, but this is usually only available in “coastal stream watersheds from the Mattole River to San Francisco and coastal stream watersheds entering northern San Pablo Bay,” as per regulations from California’s state water board. Irrigation ponds with more limited or specialized uses may only qualify for stream diversion if they are classified as domestic ponds and stay below a size of 10 acre-feet. Some ponds are designed with both irrigation and livestock in mind. Irrigation ponds are allowed a diversion of 20 acre-feet per year, while livestock ponds are allowed half that. Using a pond for both irrigation and livestock allows for the larger allowance while also providing some water to irrigate a small crop plot that feeds the livestock.

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