NEEDLES — Free water is available to Needles residents who happen to live in one of the areas the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has determined to have earned prior perfected water rights (PPR): Well-drilling, pumping, piping and treating not included.

Neighbors within an area must agree on an equitable plan for distribution of the water.

Terry and Carol Campbell were the first in area PPR30 to sign a contract with the bureau to claim their prior perfected rights area under the program. The contract, Terry reported Sept. 6, is presently going up the chain of command for approval.

He advised at least one other person, in another of the PPR areas the bureau has determined are eligible, is in the process of letting neighbors in his area know about the opportunity. The areas, identified on a map in the custody of Rainie Torrance at the city of Needles’ Third Street administrative offices, are PPR 30, 35, 36, 39, 40, 41, 43 and 49. The oldest claim from the group, Campbell said, probably dates to the 1980s.

Prior perfected rights are for Colorado River basin water historically used for agriculture before the Colorado River Compact was signed in the early 1920s, Campbell explained.

For example, the bureau identified 240 acres of irrigation in use by the farmers and ranchers of the time in the 627 acres of PPR 30; which means 240 acre-feet of water are available to be divided among landowners there.

The bureau determined that water could be diverted from agricultural to domestic use as long as a majority of landowners within each PPR area signed an equitable distribution agreement. Once the agreement is signed and recorded in the Federal Register, contracts with the bureau’s Boulder Canyon Project for mainstream Colorado River water will be offered to the signatories.

There are conditions, such as metering, permission for inspection and reporting.

To begin the process, Campbell said, residents must determine the parcel number of their property and find out if it is within one of the PPR areas. If so, determine which neighbors have property within the same area and begin a conversation about how to divide that water up. Once agreement is reached and published in the Federal Register the bureau can begin the process of granting the rights.

“The bureau will help with that process, providing assistance to identifying parcel numbers within a PPR area,” Campbell said. “Someone needs to take the lead for each area … to be a source of communication between landowners and the bureau.”

Most people who have active wells are in the Lower Colorado River Water Supply Project, Campbell said; a different category which does charge the landowner for water used. The city of Needles is the water master for that program on the California side of the river. Agreements to use that water are considered by the state Colorado River Board and, if approved, annual payment is made through the Needles Public Utility Authority.

Campbell is a member of Needles’ Public Utility Board, which is overseen by the city council acting as that utility authority.

The difference, he pointed out, is between perfected and prescribed water rights. Prescribed rights come from a congressional action which allocates water through a mechanism which could be revoked.

Perfected water rights, he continued, are superior to state’s rights. Perfected rights will be the last ones to be curtailed in any drought contingency plans and are not subject to state government control.

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