Water Rights

The Ellison Schneider Harris & Donlan Water Practice Group is highly experienced in the processes and requirements needed to establish the validity of, procure, and defend water rights.

Our Water Practice Group has prepared numerous water rights analyses. Water rights analyses are used in a variety of contexts. A common reason for undertaking a water rights analysis is to establish the validity of a water right. In addition, analyses are often required for transfer or sale of water or water rights, assessing the viability of the rights of others, or in response to actions by an administrative agency. In California, water rights analyses can include historical analysis (for “pre-1914” rights), title work (for riparian rights), and a wide array of technical work (for both surface water and groundwater issues).

Since 1914, appropriative water rights can be obtained only through a state permitting process. The State Water Resources Control Board administers the water right permitting process for the state. This process can be daunting. Ellison Schneider Harris & Donlan has extensive experience in obtaining water right permits. The permit process involves preparation of environmental documents, negotiations with fishery agencies, working with adjacent property owners and environmental groups, and technical work with engineers, hydrologists, geologists, and other experts. The process usually involves an administrative hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board. Our Water Practice Group has substantial experience in successfully navigating this process.

A water right is a valuable property right, and must be protected like any other such right. Water rights can be lost due to a variety of reasons, including non-use. More and more, water rights are subject to scrutiny as demand escalates, and existing rights must continually respond to challenges stemming from endangered species issues, water quality concerns, or competition from other water users. We represent numerous clients whose rights have been challenged by the State Water Resources Control Board through enforcement actions, particularly through assessment of Administrative Civil Liability. Our Water Practice Group has significant experience in helping its clients acquire and defend water rights in the short term, and also in developing roadmaps for protecting valuable rights in the foreseeable future.