A legal battle in the Coachella Valley could transform how California – and the nation – uses water

From Pacific Standard:

“In a legal battle between a Californian tribe and the state’s water agencies, experts are seeing a turning point in the history of United States water rights, potentially affecting how water is controlled across the entire country.

In November of last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, concerned about the effects of climate change and the quality of the water in the aquifer, brought against the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency.

This Supreme Court decision left standing a Ninth Circuit ruling, which established—for the first time—the principle that tribes have priority over their reservations’ groundwater. … ”

Read more from the Pacific Standard here:  A legal battle in the Coachella Valley could transform how California – and the nation – uses water

Paso Robles: Defending pumping

From New Times San Luis Obispo:

“A Santa Clara County jury served four Paso Robles-area government agencies a victory in court on Sept. 24, concluding in a unanimous ruling that those public water purveyors had established a right to pump from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin—even in adverse conditions, like a drought.

After a month-long trial stemming from a 2013 lawsuit filed by private landowners, the jury ruled that the agencies—San Luis Obispo County, the city of Paso Robles, Templeton Community Services District (CSD), and San Miguel CSD—successfully proved that they’d established overriding rights to basin water between 1981 and 1990, when the aquifer was in a state of overdraft. … ”

Read more from New Times SLO here:  Defending pumping

California Leans Heavily on its Groundwater, But Will a Court Decision Tip the Scales Against More Pumping?

From Western Water:

“In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from Eastern Sierra creeks that fed Mono Lake. Some 35 years later, an appellate court concluded the same public trust doctrine that applied in the Mono Lake case also applies to groundwater that feeds a navigable river in a picturesque corner of far Northern California. But will this latest ruling have the same impact on California water resources as the historic Mono Lake decision?”

Read more from Western Water here:  California Leans Heavily on its Groundwater, But Will a Court Decision Tip the Scales Against More Pumping?

Why California law requires a clear benefit for groundwater recharge

From Water Deeply:

Researchers at the University of California recently highlighted a flaw in state law that may prohibit diverting streamflow to recharge groundwater. The problem is that groundwater recharge by itself is not considered a “beneficial use” under state law, and meeting that definition is a requirement to obtain a permit to divert water.

Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees water rights, say the reality is not so clear-cut. In fact, existing rules allow most groundwater recharge projects to obtain a water right. It’s just that they may not be awarded that right for the act of recharge by itself. The applicant would have to specifically target some ancillary benefit of recharge, such as salinity control in an aquifer or reversing land subsidence caused by overpumping groundwater. … ”

Read more from Water Deeply here:  Why California law requires a clear benefit for groundwater recharge

The public trust and SGMA

Brian Gray at the California Water Blog writes,

In a recent decision in litigation over flows and salmon survival in the Scott River system, the California Court of Appeal has ruled that groundwater pumping that diminishes the volume or flow of water in a navigable surface stream may violate the public trust. The public trust does not protect groundwater itself. “Rather, the public trust doctrine applies if extraction of groundwater adversely impacts a navigable waterway to which the public trust doctrine does apply.”

The court also concluded that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) does not preempt or preclude independent application of the public trust to groundwater pumping, finding “no legislative intent to eviscerate the public trust in navigable waterways in the text or scope of SGMA.”

These interpretations follow from both hydrology and law. …

Read more from the California Water Blog here:  The public trust and SGMA

Is Groundwater Recharge a ‘Beneficial Use’? California Law Says No.

From Water Deeply:

Groundwater depletion is a big problem in parts of California. But it is not the only groundwater problem. The state also has many areas of polluted groundwater, and some places where groundwater overdraft has caused the land to subside, damaging roads, canals and other infrastructure. Near the coast, heavy groundwater pumping has caused contamination by pulling seawater underground from the ocean.

But if you wanted to obtain a permit from the state to manage these problems by recharging groundwater, you could be out of luck. … “

Read more from Water Deeply here:  Is Groundwater Recharge a ‘Beneficial Use’? California Law Says No.

San Luis Obispo County claims a victory in ongoing legal battle with landowners over water rights

From the San Luis Obispo Tribune:

“A jury this week affirmed that public water suppliers in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin have established rights to use underground water supplies consistent with historical practice even during times of shortage, San Luis Obispo County officials said in a news release.

The jury reached the verdict Sept. 24 after a month-long trial, finding that public water suppliers —including the county, the city of Paso Robles, Templeton Community Services District and San Miguel Community Services District — have established a “prescriptive right.” … “

Read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune here: SLO County claims a victory in ongoing legal battle with landowners over water rights

Jury reaches verdict in trial over Paso Robles Groundwater Basin rights

From KSBY:

“A Santa Clara County jury decided this week that public water suppliers in San Luis Obispo County have the right to use water from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin to supply the communities they serve, county officials announced Wednesday.  Those suppliers include the City of Paso Robles, County of San Luis Obispo, Templeton Community Services District, and San Miguel Community Services District.

North County property owners filed the “quiet title” lawsuit in 2013. At issue was whether the landowners’ right to use groundwater takes precedence over the public water suppliers and if, during times of shortage, the public suppliers would have to cease pumping from the groundwater basin. … “

Read more from KSBY here: Jury reaches verdict in trial over Paso Robles Groundwater Basin rights

Paso Robles quiet title trial nears end in Santa Clara

From New Times SLO:

“A jury trial to determine whose groundwater rights should win out in a 5-year-old clash between public water purveyors and private landowners near Paso Robles approached a conclusion in Santa Clara County Superior Court the week of Sept. 20.

In 2013, a small group of North County property owners, led by vintner Cindy Steinbeck, filed a quiet title water rights lawsuit in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, amid anxiety about the drought, its impact on the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, and the regulations set to curb water pumping. … ”

Read more from New Times SLO here:  Paso Robles quiet title trial nears end in Santa Clara

Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority digests water rights

From the Ridgecrest Independent:

“The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s policy advisory committee received a comprehensive legal rundown and case history on water rights Thursday night.

In a two-hour meeting, Groundwater Authority special legal counsel Jim Markman highlighted different scenarios, described the difference between overlying water rights (essentially pumping over the land one owns) and appropriators rights (those held by agencies like the IWV Water District), discussed adjudication and possible outcomes for achieving sustainability.

Markman said his task “is to pull all the interests in this basin and have everyone understand their strengths and possible weaknesses of their claims for water production rights,” not advocating for any one group’s water rights or priorities. … “

Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here:  Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority digests water rights