Groundwater takeover would prove costly

Groundwater takeover would prove costly

Adjudicated water basins, DWRIn 2010, I did some freelance work for Susan Trager, one of California’s top water lawyers. Unfortunately she died in 2011.

Even though I had been writing about California since 1987 and had a general idea of state water policy, until I worked for Susan I had no idea how complex, developed and even rational water policy is.

In California, water rights and use mostly are “adjudicted.” The rights are mostly private, as are the lawyers involved; but the state courts system referees disputes. Other than the courts, the state is involved only if the state itself has water rights. Even the federal government, because of federal law, follows state adjudication decisions. The ultimate adjudicator is the California Supreme Court.

The adjudications sometimes can take decades. Yet somehow, it works. Along with federal bankruptcy court, California water adjudication is one of the few areas of government that actually works fairly well.

This system, which is more than 100 years old, now is endangered because state legislators are using the drought as an excuse to increase their control over private water. The Los Angeles Times reported:

California continues to endure a calamitous lack of water from the sky, the state could, for the first time, start to regulate water drawn from the ground.

Groundwater regulation has been politically poisonous since the state’s founding. But lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are hoping to capitalize on the current parched conditions, and cautious cooperation from once-resistant interest groups, to pass a plan for a groundwater management system by the end of the month.

“This falls under the category of: Never let a crisis go to waste,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), an author of the legislation.

That last quote was a paraphrase of Rahm Emanuel when he was President Clinton’s first chief of staff, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”


My colleague Wayne Lusvardi has been writing about this here on From my political perspective, here are a couple of things:

1. Given that the current system is old, well established and works fairly well, anything else will be more expensive. That means we’ll all end up paying more for water.

2. Much of the higher water expense will go to lawyers. Usually when government uses eminent domain to grab property, it goes after Jose’s Muffler Shop or Anita’s small home. This time they would be going up against some of the sharpest lawyers in the state.

3. The U.S. Supreme Court strongly has established “takings” law, in which any property taken from citizens through eminent domain must be compensated. Here’s a summary from Public CEO of the Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District decision just last year:

In a potentially groundbreaking land-use decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in a sharply divided decision that the denial of a permit to develop wetlands property in Florida could be a taking of property under the Fifth Amendment. What this decision means to local government agencies that issue development permits remains to be sorted out. The justices who dissented warned that the majority opinion places a dark cloud of uncertainty over land use permit fees relied upon by local governments throughout the United States. The majority opinion, on the other hand, suggests that the dissent’s fears are exaggerated, if not entirely off the mark. In California, it would not be surprising if some developers attempt to use the decision to challenge land use decisions and permit fees. But existing California law already lines up to some extent with the decision rendered by the nation’s highest court.

You can bet the Koontz  decision would be cited in any lawsuits against the state insisting that any state legislation taking groundwater, or reducing groundwater rights, be compensated out of the state treasury. That could cost billions.

And where is the Legislature going to get those billions? The only way would be to add a fee to your water bill.


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  1. Ricky65
    Ricky65 11 August, 2014, 09:34

    Somehow I think all this huge concern by the State of California in monitoring groundwater will go away once they have installed meters on every private well in the state.
    With meters installed and every user paying a royalty to state coffers for every gallon extracted, I suspect the states’ current interest in overdrawn water basins will just go way.

    Reply this comment
    • Donkey
      Donkey 13 August, 2014, 08:05

      That is exactly what the RAGWUS feeders are after Ricky65. Like the property tax, which is a tangible and unmovable commodity, water will be used in the same way, increased every year, always running out, enforcement will require guns of course, the police state can’t be denied their part!! 🙂

      Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 11 August, 2014, 15:51

    Nope…. they want every grade school kid in little tan knickers and save the smelt effaced, enviro themed neckerchiefs singing State songs praising Common Core and reading your neighborhood meters and reporting water “inefficiencies” to Rachel Carson bedazzled water nut jobs.

    Reply this comment
  3. TheMightyWizzer
    TheMightyWizzer 11 August, 2014, 23:05

    They’re gearing up to steal water.

    More of it.

    Show your anger by taking a day trip to the hetch hetchy reservoir, have a huge beerfest, and add some nitrates and the water of life to the sf bay drinking supply!

    They’ve pissed on us, time to return the favor.

    Reply this comment
    • Donkey
      Donkey 13 August, 2014, 08:06


      Reply this comment
    • Tomttom
      Tomttom 21 September, 2014, 16:22

      Stupidest thing I have every heard of. Who in SF has pissed on who? It’s Sacramento that is the problem! And 2nd, there are so much filtration and UV lighting the water goes through before it reaches SF, that your idea is ridiculous.

      Best course of action is to get rid of these Democrats that believe that they HAVE TO CONTROL EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIFES!
      Starting with JERRY BROWN, in Nov, vote him out! California has been under a democratic controlled senate since 1970!!!! Look were that has got us, number one in the nation of illegal immigrants, and we are THE TOP WELFARE STATE! That’s our tax dollars!

      Reply this comment
  4. Christine
    Christine 13 August, 2014, 17:30

    Get these socialists out of government! Toni Atkins is the WORST!Thats why she is all cozied up w/ water rights super lobbyist Ben Clay so she can implement these tactics to steal groundwater and shut down farms so she can build more communist tenement slum projects so she can get even richer. Vote for her opponent Barbara Decker!! for state assembly! She is independednt and has no ties to special interests.

    Reply this comment
  5. Christine
    Christine 13 August, 2014, 17:31

    why are they bringing in hoardes of immigrants if we don’t have enough water for residents who live here?

    Reply this comment

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