BB&K In the News Dec 30, 2014

Drought Spurs New Court Rulings, Legislation Governing State Water Rights

BB&K Managing Partner Eric Garner Discusses the Past and Future of Water in California in the Daily Journal

By Fiona Smith

As California ends a third year of drought and prepares to enter a possible fourth dry year, water users and environmentalists have been fighting increasingly high-stakes battles over the scarce resource.

Legislation and regulations have been approved while court battles gained new urgency as supplies shrink. This year saw major decisions out of the state and federal courts including how much water can be pumped from the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta, a major source of drinking water for more than 25 million Californians and the lifeblood for much Central Valley agriculture.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown made his first attempt at getting all Californians to conserve water - issuing an official drought declaration as reservoir levels visibly dropped and the Sierra Nevadas had only a thin smattering of snow.

As farmers began doubling down on groundwater pumping, concern also grew over the rapid depletion of the state's vast but unseen groundwater aquifers. Brown signed legislation that for the first time imposed state regulations on groundwater pumping.

And after several years of attempting to get a water bond on the ballot, the Legislature and the Governor agreed on, and voters approved, a $7.5 billion bond to invest in water infrastructure.

"You could argue this is the biggest year ever in California water," said Eric L. Garner, managing partner with Best Best & Krieger LLP.

The drought was the catalyst that led to passage of both the bond and the groundwater regulations, Garner said. And of all the developments this year, he and others steeped in California water issues point to the groundwater law as the most significant.

'The law of California groundwater has essentially been, 'Pump until a judge tells you not to,' Garner said. It's a big deal because groundwater is an integral and essential part of our water supply and we need to manage it so it's there when we need it and this legislation is the first step toward doing it."

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