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Vineyard Water Quality

With laws including the U.S. Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, water (including irrigation water, stormwater, and water supply) is a heavily regulated resource. 

Why the Regulation Exists: 
The water supplied to your vineyard (whether from an onsite groundwater well, spring, creek or the local municipality) is regulated to ensure water remains a sustainable resource and to ensure water rights and water quality are protected for future use.   

Do I need a Permit?

Answer the question prompts below to determine if a permit is needed for your operation. Click on a topic below to jump directly to that section or scroll down the page to work through each topic.

Vineyard Water Supply Permitting

Water Supply Permitting

Appropriative Water Rights
Answer the questions below to determine if this permit is relevant to your operation:


  1. Do you take water from a lake, river, stream or creek for use on your property?

  2. Did your property begin using surface water or groundwater from a subterranean stream after 1914?

If you answered yes to both questions, you may need to establish a water right with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Individuals can hold riparian water rights, appropriative water rights, and prescriptive water rights. Do not assume you have a water right just because you have a water diversion or a dam on your property. You can check with the Division of Water Rights to determine if you have a water right permit, license, certificate or registration. 

For more information:  

  • California Water Board Water Rights - FAQs

  • If you can’t find documentation that you have an established water right permit, license, certificate or registration, contact an expert – lawyer or engineer – to assist you in assessing your water rights. You may need to begin the application process which will require significant documentation.

Dam and Reservoir Permits

Dam and Reservoir Permits
Answer the question below to determine if this permit is relevant to your operation:


1. Do you have a dam that is 25 feet or higher on your property? Do you have a water reservoir that has a storage capacity of more than 50 acre-feet? Are you planning an alteration of a dam on your property? 

If yes, contact the California Department of Water Resources - Division of Dam Safety for permitting needs. 

Vineyard Groundwater Registration & Reporting

Groundwater Registration & Reporting:

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) grants authority to local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to regulate groundwater and develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) that ensure sustainable use of a basin’s water sources. GSPs are approved by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). GSAs are allowed to restrict groundwater pumping and impose new fees for groundwater extraction.

For more information:  

Waste Discharge Reqs

Water Quality Permitting

Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) Permit

Land that is irrigated to produce crops for commercial purposes is regulated under the Irrigated Lands Program.*

Answer the questions below to determine if this permit is relevant to your operation:


1. Are you in Water Quality Region 3, 4 or 8?

If yes, enroll in and comply with your Regional Board’s Agricultural Order (No. R3-2021-0040, No. R4-2015-0202, or No. R8-2016-0003)

2. Are you in Region 5?

If yes, join a third party coalition group or obtain coverage (Waste Discharge Requirements) as an individual grower.

3. Are you in Region 2?


If yes, enroll in your region’s General Order and consider participating in a Third-Party Program to assist in Farm Plan development and verification.

4. Are you in Region 1 or 9?

If yes, these regions are currently developing their programs to regulate discharges of waste associated with vineyards.

For more information:  

  • Water discharges from agricultural operations include irrigation runoff, flows from tile drains, and storm water runoff. These discharges have the potential to carry sediment, nutrients, and agri-chemicals to local surface water and groundwater resources. This is regulated under the Irrigated Lands Program.

404 permits nd 40 certifications

404 Permits & 401 Certifications
Answer the questions below to determine if this permit is relevant to your operation:


  1. ​Do you have surface waters (including wetlands) on your property that have been dredged or filled? This can include work in drainage ditches and stream crossings for transportation and water supply pipelines.


If yes, you may need alterations permits, contact your Regional Water Quality Control Board.

For more information:  

  • Alteration Permits from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and CA Fish & Wildlife Agency may be necessary. Certification from the state verifying that the activity will comply with state water quality standards (404 Permits) and that discharges to the waters of the United States are appropriate (401 Certification).



Stormwater is regulated under the Clean Water Act, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) which allow states to develop general permits for regulation of stormwater. California has an Industrial General Permit for discharges of stormwater related to industrial activity, and a Construction General Permit for stormwater discharges related to construction activity.

Answer the question below to determine if this permit is relevant to your operation:


1. Have you recently planted new vineyards or recently replanted existing vineyards?

​If yes, check with your local Building Department or Planning Department about relevant ordinances, such as local erosion control ordinances.

Background Informatin

Background Information: 

Regulation in Practice – What it Means for You:  

Permits and reporting for water use are likely required regardless of your water’s source. For example, a water diversion or dam on your property does not guarantee rights to use that water source for your winery operation. Permits and licenses required for vineyard water supply and use include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Appropriative Water License (Water Supply)

  • Groundwater Well Registration (Groundwater Permits)

  • Water Quality Certifications

  • Wastewater Discharge Regulations Permit

Vineyard Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting:  

Monitoring and reporting water use is managed at the state, regional and local levels. Due to the drought, maintaining accurate water use data is more important than ever and is used in reporting. The reports help regulating agencies make decisions on how to maintain a sustainable water supply.

State: The state requires water users to have a water right. Water rights law is administered by the State Water Resources Control Board (often called the State Water Board). The State Water Board is the only agency with authority to administer water rights in California. Local governments, water districts, and the California Regional Water Quality Control Boards do NOT administer water rights. To determine if you have a water right or need a water right permit or license, visit the Water Rights Frequently Asked Questions webpage to get started. Water supply licenses such as an Appropriative Water License are administered by the State Water Board.


Regional: Nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (often called Regional Water Boards) exercise rulemaking and regulatory activities by basins. The State Water Board coordinates and supports the efforts of the Regional Water Boards. Click here to determine the region of your vineyard. Some Groundwater Permits, Wastewater Discharge, Water Quality Certifications, and Streambed Alteration Agreements are regulated by Regional Water Quality Control Boards (and sometimes by the CA Fish and Wildlife Agency). 

Local: Counties, cities and municipalities set the fee structures and reporting requirements when a vineyard’s water source comes from the city or local municipality. Additionally, for small Public Water Systems (PWS) defined as those with under 200 service connections, Local Primacy Agencies (LPAs) in 30 counties have been delegated the State Water Board’s authority to regulate all PWSs within their jurisdiction. View a map of LPA counties.

Visit the
Vineyard Resources page for additional information on vineyard water quality.

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