Water Rights Hearings Program


The Hearing Process

What is a Water Right Hearing?

A water right hearing is a quasi-judicial proceeding that has, as an objective, the development of an adequate record upon which the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) can rely to make good decisions. In general, water right hearings are conducted in a manner deemed suitable to the particular case. The State Water Board, assisted by personnel from the Division of Water Rights and Office of Chief Counsel, holds hearings to secure relevant information promptly and without unnecessary delay and expense to participating parties or the State Water Board. Subsequently, the record developed at the hearing is used to formulate a decision that affects the rights of the participants. [See the State Water Board’s maintained compilations of various Laws and Regulations relevant to current public proceedings.]

Why is a Water Right Hearing Conducted by the Water Board?

The Water Board conducts a water right hearing for a variety of reasons:

  1. A hearing is held because an application to appropriate unappropriated water has been protested and the protests have not been resolved;
  2. A hearing is held when a petition to change an existing water right permit or license is filed, and it too has unresolved protests;
  3. A hearing is held when an extension of time is requested for additional time to complete an application, start or complete construction, or apply water to full beneficial use;
  4. A hearing is held when requested by a party whose application is to be cancelled, or whose permit or license is to be revoked;
  5. A hearing is held when a water right complaint is submitted alleging (a) waste and unreasonable use is occurring, (b) injury to public trust uses or values is occurring, (c) violations of permit or license conditions are occurring;
  6. A hearing is held when objections to a draft Order of Determination (statutory adjudication) and a draft Report of Referee (court reference adjudication) is submitted;
  7. As required by law, a hearing is held on requests for assignments or release from priority of water right applications held in trust by the State (State filings); and finally
  8. A hearing is held at the Water Board's discretion on any water right matter.

What is the General Process for a Water Right Hearing?

This flowchart shows the Division of Water Rights' general process for a Water Right Hearing.

What are the Roles of Water Right Hearing Participants?

Persons participating in a water right hearing fall into several groups: (1) the hearing officer or hearing panel, (2) State Water Board staff, and (3) other persons who either support or advocate the project or who oppose the project.
  • Hearing Officer: The hearing officer assigned to hear a case is a Member of the State Water Board. That officer will act much like a judge to ensure that the hearing is conducted in an orderly fashion. More than one State Water Board Member may sit in the hearing. Should this occur, one State Water Board Member will take the lead as the hearing officer and will be with the case until it ends.
  • State Water Board Staff Hearing Team: A team is drawn from the Division of Water Rights and Office of Chief Counsel to assist the hearing officer. The hearing team, which includes a staff engineer, an environmental specialist and staff attorney, participate in the development of the hearing record and subsequently write an analysis of the hearing record. Under the guidance of the hearing officer, the hearing team prepares the draft decisions or orders to be considered by the State Water Board.
  • Project Advocates: The project sponsor or advocate must assemble information that details the project proposal, anticipated benefits and impacts and appropriate mitigation measures. For a large project, the project advocate will commonly assemble his/her own team of experts to offer testimony that addressed the defined issues. The primary responsibility for making an evidentiary record rests with the project advocate.
  • Project Opponent: The project opponent has the responsibility of providing evidence in support of any allegations made against the project. The project opponent must present his/her own supportive evidence. When the project opponent is a group or agency, one person must be designated to represent the group. The project opponent may assemble her/her own team of experts to offer testimony in support of any allegation against the project, or to conduct cross examination of the project advocate’s witnesses having similar expertise.
  • Interested Parties: The State Water Board may recognize as interested parties other persons appearing at the hearing. An interested party may either support or oppose the project. The State Water Board, in its discretionary action of granting the status of interested party to a group or individual, may impose conditions on the interested party\'s participation so as to avoid prejudice to other hearing participants.
  • Parties Interested in the Proceedings: Some people may merely wish to express general support or opposition to a project proposal. If this is the case, the presentation of non-evidentiary statements will be noted in the hearing record.
  • Stenographic Reporter: The proceeding at a hearing will be reported by a stenographic court reporter. The reporter will prepare and certify a true transcript of the proceeding.