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Important Legal Decisions

Racanelli

United States. v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (“Delta Water Cases”) (1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 82 [227 Cal.Rptr. 161]. This decision explains and clarifies numerous points of water law, including the relationship between the Board's water quality planning authority under the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (Water Code Section 13000 and following sections) and the Board’s water right authority. This case also explains the Board's authority under the public trust doctrine and the prohibition against waste or unreasonable diversion or use of water to reopen water rights to implement water quality objectives.

Robie

State Water Resources Control Board Cases (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 674 [39 Cal. Rptr.3d 189], cert. denied 549 U.S. 889. When a water quality control plan calls for an objective to be achieved by allocating responsibility to meet that objective in a water rights proceeding, water rights orders must fully implement that objective, and may not provide a time schedule for implementation unless the time schedule is in the water quality control plan. The "no injury" rule, which bars changes in a point of diversion, place of use or purposes of use if they result in injury to any legal user of water, applies only if the injury infringes on a legally protected interest. Because a riparian has no right to water stored by appropriators, the "no injury" rule does not apply to change in availability of water that results from changes in releases from storage. Where a water right holder proposes a change to its water rights, the "no injury" rule does not bar a change that would reduce deliveries to a party that contracts for water deliveries from the water right holder unless that reduction in deliveries would constitute a breach of contract. The priority for area of origin uses over Central Valley Project and State Water Project exports under the watershed protection statute (Wat. Code, § 11460 et seq.) may be asserted by a party that has or applies for a water right permit or for a contract with the projects. The watershed protection statute does not give irrigation or municipal use within the area of origin priority over releases for water quality or instream beneficial uses within the area of origin. The place of use for the Central Valley Project's water right permits is determined by the permits, applications, and accompanying maps, not the service areas of the districts that contract for water from the Central Valley Project

El Dorado

El Dorado Irrigation District v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 937 [48 Cal.Rptr.3d 468]. The rule of priority applies only to natural or abandoned flows in a watercourse; no riparian or appropriator has a right to use water that was previously stored or imported by another. The priority for area of origin uses over Central Valley Project and State Water Project exports under the watershed protection statute (Wat. Code, § 11460 et seq.) does not entitle a water right holder in the area of origin to divert at times when natural or abandoned flows are insufficient to meet water quality objectives and the Central Valley Project and State Water Project are releasing water from storage to meet those objectives. The State Water Resources Control Board cannot assign responsibility for meeting water quality objectives in a manner that undermines water right priorities without substantial justification for doing so. When the Board issues a permit based on a state filed application the Board cannot impose a permit term designed to prevent diversion when natural flows are insufficient to meet water quality objectives and the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project are releasing water from storage to meet those objectives, unless the Board also modifies previously issued permits that are junior in priority to impose the same requirement.

Phelps

Phelps v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2007)157 Cal.App.4th 89 [68 Cal.Rptr.3d 350] Conditions imposed in water right permits and licenses cannot be challenged as a defense to a proceeding brought to enforce those conditions. Standard water right Term 91, which requires permittees and licensees in the Bay/ Delta watershed to curtail their diversions when the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project are making supplemental releases to meet water quality objectives, does not violate the watershed protection statute (Wat. Code, § 11460 et seq.) or the Delta Protection Act. (Id. § 12200 et seq.)

Young

Young v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 397 [161 Cal. Rptr.3d 829]. The State Water Resources Control Board's authority to determine whether an unauthorized diversion or use is occurring, and issue a cease-and-desist order for any unauthorized diversion or use, includes authority to determine whether a diversion claimed to be authorized under a riparian or pre-1914 appropriative rights is in fact authorized under a valid riparian or pre-1914 right. Light v. State Water Resources Control Board (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1463 [173 Cal.Rptr.3d 200] The State Water Resources Control Board’s authority to prevent waste or unreasonable use of water extends to all users, regardless of the basis under which the users’ water rights are held. The board may adopt regulations setting general rules governing the reasonable use of water.

Light

Light v. State Water Resources Control Board (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1463 [173 Cal.Rptr.3d 200] The State Water Resources Control Board's authority to prevent waste or unreasonable use of water extends to all users, regardless of the basis under which the users' water rights are held. The board may adopt regulations setting general rules governing the reasonable use of water.

Millview

Millview County Water District v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 879 [177 Cal.Rptr.3d 735]. The State Water Resources Control Board has authority to determine whether an unauthorized diversion or use is occurring, including determination whether a claimed pre-1914 has been perfected or forfeited, for purposes of determining whether to issue a cease-and-desist order for unauthorized diversion or use. Appropriative rights are perfected and protected from forfeiture based on beneficial use, not amounts diverted. An appropriative right cannot be acquired based on use authorized under riparian right. Notwithstanding non-use for a period of five years or more, appropriate rights are not forfeited where the appropriator resumes beneficial use before others make use of or claim a right to use of the water not being used by the appropriator.

(Updated 6/14/16 )