Best Best & Krieger LLP is pleased to announce the trial court judgment in the largest groundwater pumping rights case ever in California and perhaps in United States history. After 16 years of litigation involving approximately 70,000 landowners, including two separate classes, Judge Jack Komar (Ret.) has signed a judgment that determines who has the right to pump water from the Antelope Valley groundwater basin and establishes a long-term sustainable management plan. The litigation was complex not only because of the number of parties and the size of the area, but due to the fact that the U.S. government, as the largest landowner in the region, was a party to this State Court proceeding.
A team of BB&K attorneys, led by Managing Partner Eric L. Garner and Partner Jeffrey V. Dunn, represented the County of Los Angeles Waterworks District No. 40 in the adjudication, which involved anyone who had a claim to use water from the groundwater basin. The first complaint in what would become a consolidated complex proceeding known as the Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases was filed in Riverside County Superior Court on Oct. 29, 1999.
The goal of the adjudication was to bring management to the basin and to limit further subsidence. This judgment is a means of ensuring the basin will now be sustainably managed.
For more than 60 years, more water has been pumped out of the groundwater basin than is naturally replenished. This has caused subsidence, which literally means that the ground has been sinking. In the 1990s, the subsidence was so bad that it led to a crack in a runway at Edwards Air Force Base.
The Judgment allows, anyone who was a party to the case to pump from the basin, although there may be charges for pumping depending on a parties’ prior pumping and some pumping is subject to the watermaster’s approval.
The court will maintain continuing jurisdiction over the basin, and five watermaster board members will administer the basin in conjunction with the court. One of the watermasters will represent District 40, which is the Valley’s largest retail water supplier with more than 200,000 people.
BB&K, and, specifically Garner and Dunn, is the only law firm in California history to have represented the lead party in two different groundwater adjudications — this one and the Santa Maria groundwater adjudication, which ended in 2012 with an appellate court decision that case resulted in an important victory for public water suppliers.