California Department of Water Resources

State and federal officials move forward plans and policies for water conservation, conveyance, and climate resilience.

By Michael G. Romey, Lucas I. Quass, John Detrich, Cody M. Kermanian, and Julie Miles

The winter of 2022-23 brought historic levels of precipitation to California after years of deep drought, dwindling reservoirs, and groundwater depletion. In the first quarter of 2023, most of the state received rainfall exceeding historic averages, with some areas experiencing 200%, or even 300% of average levels. According to the US Drought Monitor, the state is currently drought-free, although some regions are still considered abnormally dry. Despite heavy precipitation over the past year, California’s drought resilience remains in question, as critical infrastructure projects face staunch opposition and climate change increases the likelihood of extreme and prolonged droughts. Regulators and water managers had a busy 2023 as they grappled with persistently low groundwater levels, planned for additional water storage and conveyance, and continued to advance water conservation initiatives.

This blog post summarizes key actions taken by state and federal officials in 2023 with respect to California’s water supply and provides an outlook for 2024.

A controversial new law gives the California Energy Commission authority over clean energy projects and authorizes the Department of Water Resources to fund new energy sources and extend the life of existing power plants.

By Marc Campopiano, Nikki Buffa, Michael Navarrete-Carroll, Josh Bledsoe, and Kevin Homrighausen

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers negotiated and approved several “trailer bills” to the state’s $300 billion budget. One of these bills, Assembly Bill (AB) 205, which Governor Newsom signed into law on June 30, 2022, expands the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) authority under the Warren-Alquist Act to now cover solar, wind, and other select clean energy projects. The governor and lawmakers hope the expanded authority will streamline the environmental review and authorization process.

By Paul Singarella, Maria Hoye, John Heintz, Lucas Quass & John Morris

California enacts basin adjudication statutes with the goal of reducing uncertainty, costs and time of water rights litigation.

On October 9, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1390 (Alejo) and SB 226 (Pavley) to implement a comprehensive approach to groundwater basin adjudications throughout the state. Basin adjudications involve a judicial process in which a party initiates a lawsuit against all other users in a groundwater basin so that the court can determine the groundwater rights of all parties overlying the basin and whether others may export water from the basin. Through basin adjudications, courts can require the cooperation of users who otherwise might resist limits the on pumping of groundwater. Currently, 22 basins in California have been adjudicated. (There are over 500 such basins.)

Basin adjudications, however, have been costly and time consuming (in some cases taking over a decade to complete). In light of the time and expense associated with basin adjudications, the Legislature developed AB 1390 and SB 226 ostensibly to reduce the burden of groundwater adjudications on both the courts and claimants without modifying groundwater rights law. The new law will be effective January 1, 2016. A summary of these two companion bills follows.