Preserving the traditions & conserving the land

ESR Water Rights Application Facts at-a-Glance

El Sur Ranch Water Right Permitting Process #30166 EIR


The El Sur Ranch (Ranch) is the Applicant for a water right permit from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB is the public trust entity responsible for the issuance of water right permits and is the lead agency required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Protestants are public and private entities that allege and must prove that the proposed project has the potential for impact upon natural resources.


On July 10, 1992, Water Right Application No. 30166 was filed by Mr. James Hill on behalf of El Sur Ranch. El Sur Ranch is currently engaged in the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) water right permitting process, seeking to continue longstanding diversions from two wells, of up to 1,615 acre-feet per year of Big Sur River underflow. The application seeks to continue use of water for check and furrow irrigation of the El Sur Ranch pastures in the same manner and utilizing the same source, methods, and varying water amounts, as have been used on the Ranch for nearly 60 years.

The original application was amended in November and December 2005, and again in October 2006; the current amendment represents the basis of the proposed project being evaluated under CEQA. The application seeks a maximum direct diversion of 1,615 acre feet per annum (afa), with a twenty-year rolling average not to exceed 1,200 afa, dry season diversions not to exceed 735 acre-feet between July 1 and October 31, and monthly diversions not to exceed 235 acre-feet during that period. The maximum, seasonal and monthly diversion limits are less than maximum historic usage levels for these periods.

The SWRCB, as lead agency, under CEQA, has directed the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that will review the potential environmental effects associated with the project. The application seeks an appropriation of water from the Big Sur River underflow to continue historic ranching operations. The application, if granted, will not allow the water to be used for any other purpose or on any lands other than those described in the application and historically irrigated by the Ranch. Water would continue to be beneficially applied on 267 acres of historically irrigated pastureland.

Protests have been filed against this application by DPR, the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The protests of these entities allege concern for the potential for impacts to wildlife and habitat.

Since filing of its application in 1992, El Sur Ranch technical consultants have been conducting hydrologic and biologic studies, to analyze the Ranch’s historic water use and to identify the potential for impacts to the surrounding environment. El Sur Ranch has funded these extensive studies and has incorporated input from the SWRCB and Protestants in determining the scope of its data collection and analyses. El Sur Ranch has also funded extensive independent CEQA review and analyses done solely at the direction of the SWRCB.

The SWRCB has released a draft Environmental Impact Report for the El Sur Ranch application #30166.


For over 40 years the water pumped from the Ranch wells was legally presumed to be groundwater. Then during a critically dry summer in 1990, the DPR extensively excavated the river channel causing it to go dry. The DPR then filed a complaint with the SWRCB alleging that it was Ranch pumping that caused river flows to cease. The resulting investigation by the SWRCB determined that while El Sur Ranch pumping did not cause the drying of the river, and has no measurable effect upon river or lagoon surface water levels, the groundwater aquifer pumped by ranch wells is hydraulically coupled to the underflow of the river. Consequently, the wells pump a combination of groundwater from the aquifer and seepage out of the river underflow. To the extent this water is applied to pastures that do not drain back to the river, the use is deemed by the SWRCB to be “appropriative” and subject to the permitting authority of the board.

Accordingly, the El Sur Ranch has filed an application seeking a permit to continue its historic ranching operation without any increase in the maximum amount of water historically diverted or used. Continued responsible, efficient and effective use of requested diversions will allow relevant watersheds to maintain healthy stands of native vegetation, provide habitat for sensitive and/or endangered species, control erosion, continue historic cattle ranching activity and effectively manage soil salinity.

The El Sur Ranch has consistently and in good faith sought completion of the permitting process.

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