Water Rights Fee – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Overview

The California water rights fee applies to owners and lessors of water rights. A water right is a legal entitlement authorizing water to be diverted from a specified source and put to beneficial, non-wasteful use. Water rights are property rights, but their holders do not own the water itself. They possess the right to use it. The exercise of some water rights requires a permit or license from the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), whose objective is to ensure that the State's waters are put to the best possible use, and that the public interest is served.

The fee is based upon a schedule of fees adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board. The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) collects the fee in cooperation with the State Water Board.

The funds are used by the State Water Board to:

  • Cover the cost of activities involving hydroelectric power projects subject to licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
  • Cover the cost of establishing plans and policies that address the diversion or use of water,
  • Pay refunds, and
  • Pay CDTFA for its cost of administering the water rights fee collection program.

The water rights fee is based on a schedule of fees adopted by the State Water Board. The State Water Board provides the CDTFA with the name and address of each person or entity that owes the fee.

The CDTFA issues a billing (Notice of Determination) at the beginning of November each year for each fiscal year, based on the billing information provided by the State Water Board.

Registration

Water rights owners and lessors are required to register with the State Water Board. The State Water Board provides the CDTFA with feepayer registration information.

For questions about registration, water rights or permits, you should contact the State Water Board:

State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
P.O. Box 2000
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000
916-341-5300
Fax 916-341-5400

Water rights owners and lessors are required to register with the State Water Board. The State Water Board provides the CDTFA with feepayer registration information.

For other state, federal, and local taxing and licensing information, the following sites may provide assistance.

The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) offers extensive information on state, local, and federal permit requirements. Visit The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) website for a listing of its assistance centers.

Visit CalGold for help with permit and licensing requirements for other state, federal, and local authorities (for example, you may need to be registered with the Franchise Tax Board or the Employment Development Department).

Also, see California's Tax Service Center. You may also want to consult a tax professional for assistance about other agencies' requirements.

A water rights owner or lessor must immediately inform the State Water Board of any change in address or ownership. The State Water Board mails all correspondence, reports and notices to the most recent owner and address shown on their record. The necessary water right forms are available on their website.

You may be liable for a prior owner's water rights fee if you fail to notify the State Water Board of an ownership change. You must notify the State Water Board of the change at least 10 days before the water rights fee is assessed. (See California Code of Regulations, Title 23, § 830-831 and § 1074(c).)

Questions related to your water rights license, permit, application, petition, etc. should be directed to:

State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
P.O. Box 2000
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000
916-341-5300
Fax 916-341-5400

Collecting the Fee

The fee rate is based on a schedule of fees set and adopted each fiscal year by the State Water Board. The current rate and prior rates can be viewed on the CDTFA's website at the Tax and Fee Rates page.

Making a Payment

The water rights fee is due to the CDTFA within 30 days from the date of the billing (Notice of Determination) which is issued by the CDTFA at the beginning of November each year for each fiscal year. The State Water Board provides the CDTFA with the name and address of each person or entity liable for the fee.

Payments must be postmarked by the due date to be considered timely. If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or state holiday, payments postmarked or received by the next business day will be considered timely. All checks should be made out to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

You should submit your payment with your billing (Notice of Determination) to the CDTFA. Make your check or money order payable to "California Department of Tax and Fee Administration." Always write your CDTFA account number on your check or money order and make a copy for your records. Payments must be postmarked by the due date to be considered timely. If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or state holiday, payments postmarked or received by the next business day will be considered timely.

Several other options are available to make a payment including: check or money order, credit card payment, and Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT). Please note: If you are making a payment via credit card, a vendor charge of 2.3% will be added as a processing fee. This service fee is retained by the vendor and is not revenue to the CDTFA. The minimum fee is $1.00.

You must mail your Petition for Reconsideration to the State Water Board. The petition must be received by the State Water Board within 30 days of the date the billing (Notice of Determination). Petitions for Reconsideration may not be sent to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. The State Water Board's mailing address is:

State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
P.O. Box 2000
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000
916-341-5431

If you have overpaid the water rights fee directly to the CDTFA, you may file a claim for refund by using form CDTFA-101, Claim for Refund or Credit.Claims for refund must be in writing and should specify the period for which you are making the claim and the amount of the refund. All other claims for refund or petitions must be submitted to the State Water Board at the address noted above.

Mail overpayment claims to:
California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
Special Taxes and Fees
Appeals and Data Analysis Branch (MIC: 33)
P.O. Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279-0033

Whichever of the following dates occurs last is your filing deadline:

  • Six months after you overpaid the fee
  • Six months after the date an assessment or billing (Notice of Determination) became final
  • Three years after the CDTFA collected an involuntary payment, such as from a levy or lien

Be sure to file your claim for refund by the applicable deadline. If you do not file on time, the CDTFA cannot consider your claim, even if you overpaid the fee. If you have questions about your deadline to file a refund claim, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY: 711).