California Establishes New Rules for Adjudicating Groundwater Basins

February 22, 2016

Now more than ever, Californians are beyond concerned about a rapidly-vanishing and vital resource: groundwater. In the California Lawyer article “Comprehensive Groundwater Adjudications: New Rules of Engagement for Resolving Groundwater Disputes,” Associate Derek Hoffman addresses California’s new rules governing the ever-complex legal arena for comprehensive groundwater adjudications.

For nearly 150 years, California had no statewide regulatory process for managing groundwater. However, on January 1, 2015, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) came into law. SGMA requires the formation of local groundwater sustainability agencies and the implementation of groundwater sustainability plans in order to achieve long-term basin sustainability. But, SGMA was not designed to determine or alter substantive groundwater rights, which is a function still left to the courts to decide in large-scale groundwater adjudications.

California water law is extremely complex, and groundwater adjudications can sometimes last for years, even decades, before reaching a final judgment. However, recent legislation established methods and procedures intended to expedite the lengthy litigation process that results in a court’s judgment determining all groundwater rights in a basin.

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