Foley & Lardner represented the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District in the successful passage of landmark water resources legislation in California.
Assembly Bill 747, authored by Assembly member Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), was signed into law on September, 24, 2018 by California Gov. Jerry Brown and will take effect on June 30, 2019. The new legislation is a significant improvement in state law to protect water rights- holders and ensure due process. These are the first such protections in water law to make it through the California legislature and secure the governor’s signature in many years. Historic water rights have been under significant pressure and scrutiny amid years of regulatory mandates due to sustained drought, environmental regulation in the California Delta and groundwater basin depletion challenges.
AB 747 removes the built-in conflicts of interest in the current structure, leveling the playing field for water users who have felt they had no choice but to settle enforcement actions brought by the California State Water Resources Control Board. The State Water Resources Board currently acts as both prosecutor and judge in enforcement actions the Board itself initiates. AB 747 creates an Administrative Hearings Office within the Board. Expert attorneys will act as an objective third party to oversee and adjudicate complex, critically important water rights matters. A similar structure is already in effect for many similar state agencies.
BBID pushed for the legislation. “The Governor’s action cements a significant step toward improving the transparency, objectivity and accountability for California’s water rights administration and enforcement,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “This law will go a long way toward implementing the necessary checks and balances in water rights cases, as well as restoring the water community’s faith in the process.”
BBID recently won a significant court victory reaffirming and solidifying the oldest water rights in California, in an action the District filed challenging unlawful curtailment notices issued by the SWRCB during the recent drought. The Foley team was also a consultant during that effort.
AB 747 is the follow-up to AB 313, which was previously introduced by Assembly member Adam Gray (D-Merced). AB 313 was vetoed by Governor Brown last year. Since then, BBID and its partners have proactively engaged the Brown Administration in an effort to find common ground, with the help of the Foley Team.
The Foley team was led by Dennis Cardoza, Managing Director and Chair of the California Public Affairs practice. He is also Co-Chair of Foley’s Federal Public Affairs practice.