How Yolo Obtained Water Rights

Contrary to the belief of many, Lake County never owned the water of Clear Lake as it is held in the public trust by the State of California. Persons owning land touching the lake or water courses have the littoral or riparian right to take water from these sources. Littoral and riparian rights are a hold over from English law.

The appropriation law, under which the Yolo County people secured their claim, was enacted into law in 1873, during the dispute between the hydraulic miners, establishing the right of the first to file for water. The history for the first to claim water from Cache Creek goes back to 1854 when the Moore Ditch Company (Co.) in Yolo County began preparations to take water from Cache Creek for irrigation purposes. Previous to this William Gordon, a naturalized Mexican citizen had been given grant of 2 square leagues of land between Sonoma and Napa and the Sacramento River with many rights by Mexican Governor Micheltreno. Moore had acquired Gordon's holdings and it was on this land he established his ditch. In 1871 suit was filed against Moore by the Cachville Ditch Co., disputing Moore's claim to all the water that did flow or could flow in Cache Creek.

On November 11, 1871, the local court decided against Moore. Moore appealed to the California Supreme Court which reversed to lower court and established Moore's claim, the result being that the Cachville Co. went out of business.

About 1908 a Mr. Highland spent $10,000 on a plan to build a dam on Kelsey Creek for the purpose of supplying water to the farmers of that area but when none were interested Mr. Highland dropped the idea with his $10,000. Later, when the Yolo County people were preparing to construct their present dam on Cache Creek, approached the Lake County Board of Supervisors, asking if Lake County was interested in the lake water.

Based on the experience of Mr. Highland, the answer was no. The Moore interests, which had been in the hands of the Moore family for nearly 50 years, during which time they had acquired the several other ditch Companies passed into the hands of the Yolo Water and Power Co. This latter company made application for 300,000 inches of water from Cache Creek, naming Clear Lake and all the streams flowing into the lake, this being recorded in the Lake County's Recorders office on May 28, 1912.

Through some oversight, Lake County never applied for water so thus the rights to the water passed to the Yolo County people.

History of Yolo Water Rights

In 1912 the Yolo Water and Power Company, a corporation, applied to the State to appropriate 300,000 miner's inches of water from Cache Creek. In appropriating this water it was necessary for the Yolo Water and Power Company to show that this water was available for appropriation and that it would be put to beneficial use, which in their case was the irrigation of lands in Yolo County.

The measure of this right to the water in Clear Lake Basin has now been defined and refined by the following litigation:


  • Gopcevic versus (vs.) Yolo Water and Power Company. Yolo Water and Power Company may not:
    • Raise the level of Clear Lake above 7.56 feet Rumsey
    • Lower the level of Clear Lake below zero Rumsey
    • By reason of storm or flood conditions, allow Clear Lake to rise above 9 feet Rumsey for any period greater than 10 successive days
      • Note: Due to physical limitations of the Clear Lake and Cache Creek system, this is not possible


  • Yolo Water and Power Company was purchased by the Clear Lake Water Company


  • Clear Lake Water Company vs. Highlands Water Company
  • Clear Lake Water Company has right to water above zero and below 7.56 feet Rumsey


  • Clear Lake Water Company was purchased by Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District


  • Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District v. California Consolidated Water Company, Lake County Superior Court
  • Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District has right to water above zero and below 7.56 feet Rumsey


In effect the water rights from 1912 to this point have been perfected by the 1914 construction of Clear Lake Dam and the network of canals and irrigation structures in Yolo County. There are approximately 320,000 acre-feet of water between 0 and 7.56 feet Rumsey. Average annual evaporation is approximately 120,000 acre-feet, leaving 200,000 acre-feet for Yolo when the lake starts full.

The construction of the Indian Valley Reservoir by Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District prompted litigation in 1978 between the County of Lake and Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, in Solano County Superior Court. The result of which, Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District shall operate Clear Lake in accordance with an Operating Criteria established hereby.

This complex operation schedule in brief says if Clear Lake fills to 7.56 feet Rumsey by May 1, Yolo gets 150,000 acre-feet. If the lake reaches 3.22 feet Rumsey or less Yolo gets no water, with corresponding amounts in between. (This "Solano Decree" provides that more water is left in Clear Lake. When the lake starts full, the October 31 level must be above 1.25 feet Rumsey instead of 0.)

Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District's appropriated water right does not expire and cannot be revoked except for 2 reasons:

  1. Improper exercise of right
  2. Nonuse

In summary, an Appropriative Water Right is based on the "first in time - first in right" doctrine, diligent pursuit and beneficial use.