Legal Alerts Oct 09, 2015

California Governor Signs Bills to Streamline Groundwater Basin Adjudications to Better Harmonize with SGMA

Bills Addresses Traditional Costs and Delays in Adjudications

California Governor Signs Bills to Streamline Groundwater Basin Adjudications to Better Harmonize with SGMA

Today, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills designed to streamline groundwater basin adjudications and align them with requirements under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The bills include AB 1390, which expedites procedures for groundwater adjudications, and SB 226, which addresses such adjudications in light of SGMA.

Adjudications are complex legal cases in which courts define the water rights of multiple parties who withdraw water from the same aquifer. These proceedings can be lengthy and expensive, with some taking 15 years or more to resolve. SGMA, adopted last year, marked the first time California has attempted to comprehensively regulate groundwater to protect this valuable resource. SGMA requires that high- and medium-priority groundwater basins be managed under a groundwater sustainability plan by Jan. 31, 2022. Basins designated as “critically overdrafted” must meet that requirement by Jan. 31, 2020.

Given the time involved in adjudications, policy makers noted it would be difficult if not impossible for some basins to comply with SGMA if they had to wait 15 or more years for a final judicial determination of water rights through existing adjudication processes. AB 1390 (Alejo) and SB 226 (Pavley), which operate in tandem, seek to address this problem.  The bills take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

AB 1390 adds a new chapter to the California Code of Civil Procedure to streamline comprehensive groundwater adjudications without changing groundwater rights law. The bill addresses service and noticing, use of expert witnesses and other procedural requirements.

SB 226 adds new provisions to SGMA in the Water Code, as well as the Code of Civil Procedure. It authorizes the state to intervene in a comprehensive adjudication being conducted pursuant to AB 1390. The new law requires that a court, when handling a groundwater adjudication proceeding for a basin required to have a SGMA sustainability plan, manage the proceeding in a way that minimizes interference with SGMA and avoids redundancy and unnecessary costs, and is consistent with the SGMA’s timeframes for attaining sustainable groundwater management.

Brown also signed a number of other bills related to groundwater and water resources today. They include the following, which also take effect Jan. 1:

  • AB 617 (Perea) makes technical changes and clarifications to SGMA, including addressing “in lieu use” in a groundwater sustainability plan and enabling groundwater sustainability agencies to enter into written agreements and funding with private parties to help implement sustainability plans.
  • AB 939 (Salas) addresses deadlines and SGMA application to basins that are reprioritized by the Department of Water Resources from low or very low priority to high or medium priority status.

For more information on these new laws and how they may impact your agency, contact the attorney authors of this legal alert listed to the right in the Environmental & Natural Resources practice group, or your BB&K attorney.

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