CA Water Commission: Groundwater Rights Summary and Allocations Challenges for Market Development

Oct 13, 2021 at 3:00pm


For the past several months, the California Water Commission has been leading a process to frame state considerations around how Groundwater Sustainability Agencies might construct well-managed groundwater trading programs.  The Commission has been hearing from experts and the public at workshops and Commission meetings to inform their work.  The project will culminate in a white paper that summarizes their findings and includes a set of conclusions and suggested next steps for how to shape well-managed groundwater trading programs with appropriate safeguards for communities, farms, and the environment, and what role the state could play to ensure that those protections exist.

At the July meeting of the California Water Commission, commissioners heard from Amanda Pearson, Attorney IV at the State Water Resources Control Board, who gave the State perspective on water rights and SGMA, and from Valerie Kincaid, Partner at Paris Kincaid Wasiewski LLP, who provided an overview of groundwater rights law and how it relates to water markets.

Assistant Executive Officer Laura Jensen noted that the Commission is not expected to weigh in on groundwater rights and its consideration of safeguards; this information is being presented to the Commission to increase understanding of the issues.

Amanda Pearson kicked off the presentation by giving broad context for the types of issues related to water rights and water use that markets might need to navigate to be successful, as well as groundwater adjudications and how they interface with SGMA.  She first gave the standard disclaimer that she is presenting her own views and not the official views of the State Water Board.

A groundwater adjudication is another management system that can affect how groundwater is used.  Groundwater adjudications have been around for almost 100 years, with the first adjudication coming down in 1924.  Since then, there have been some problems with groundwater adjudications, and they have developed in complexity in terms of the types of things courts are writing into the decrees and the kinds of management tools applied.

The key purpose of an adjudication, to my mind, is really to identify who has what groundwater rights,” said Ms. Pearson.  “Adjudications often include physical solutions and often result in the appointment of a Watermaster to make sure that water use is going in accordance with the adjudication decree.”

In contrast, SGMA is relatively new, having been enacted in 2014; it hasn’t developed through litigation very much yet, so we are still very much on the cutting edge of this law.  

Continue reading the article from Maven's Notebook here