Hastings Environmental Law Journal


Tyler Fields


The Mill Creek Zanja is a 200-year-old, twelve-mile canal cut from the banks of a nearby stream. The Zanja was built originally as an irrigation canal to serve agriculture and industry in what is now Redlands, California located just outside Los Angeles. Since the Zanja’s construction in the early 19th century, the “rights” to the waters of the Zanja have been intensely litigated, highly sought after, and heavily debated. Today, the Zanja flow is around 40,000 to 50,000 acre feet per year. The water is used primarily by the City of Redlands for drinking water and by Crafton Water Company for local agrarian interests. Visually, the Zanja appears to be a stream meandering through the region. The law, however, sees the Zanja as nothing more than a manmade pipe. As such, no riparian, appropriative, or instream rights can attach to it. This paper argues that the Zanja has immense instream right potential and that in order to enable instream rights, the Zanja ought to be declared a “natural” stream. This paper discusses the application process to obtain instream rights as well as the community stakeholders who have an interest in dedicating instream rights in the Zanja. This paper then further outlines and articulates how the Zanja might be declared “natural” by a California court in order to enable the instream right potential. Ultimately, this paper concludes both the naturalization and instream right efforts would be successful as applied to the Zanja.