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For the first time, a California Appellate Court has addressed the issue of limiting the right to pump groundwater by a landowner who has never pumped from a particular basin. While the rights of pumping and non-pumping landowners have generally been considered equal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal decided that, in certain situations, the two can be treated differently.
The decision came in the ongoing adjudication of the Antelope Valley Groundwater Basin, the largest, most complex groundwater pumping rights case ever in California, and one of the largest in U.S. history. In 2016, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge signed a judgment that determined who has the right to pump water from the Basin and established a long-term sustainable management structure. 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, and falling water levels. The goal of the adjudication is to bring sustainable management to the Basin and to limit further subsidence.
“Groundwater management is an incredibly important issue in California, as evidenced by the adoption of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Best Best & Krieger LLP Managing Partner and Water Law veteran Eric Garner said of the 2014 law. “To effectively manage groundwater in California, there must be some ability to limit pumping rights of landowners who have never pumped. The court’s decision here for the first time provides concrete authority to limit the pumping of non-pumping overlying landowners.”
Garner represents County of Los Angeles Waterworks District No. 40, along with Partner Jeffrey Dunn and Of Counsel Wendy Wang, in the complex litigation that began in 1999. 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 resulted in an important victory for public water suppliers.
The case is Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases, F082469.

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