Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a new law that addresses inequities in California’s complicated groundwater adjudication process.
Assembly Bill 779 by Assemblymember Lori Wilson aims to level the playing field for small water users and disadvantaged communities. It’s one of the only bills passed this legislative session focused on improving California’s management of groundwater.
AB 779 is unique in another way: Adrianne Davies, Owen McAleer and Gabi Rosenfeld are third-year law students who worked on the bill by providing research, drafting assistance, and testifying on behalf of the legislation as part of the UCLA School of Law’s California Environmental Legislation and Policy Clinic, which gives students hands-on experience with the California lawmaking process.
Groundwater adjudications are the legal process for settling a dispute over water rights. These proceedings often take years and cost millions of dollars. This puts historically marginalized groundwater users at a disadvantage when it comes to equitable access to clean and safe water sources. In a recent Legal Planet post, the three students explain how AB 779 would change the groundwater adjudication process through four major improvements:
- Ensuring courts have considered “the water use of and accessibility of water for small farmers and disadvantaged communities” while making a judgement.
- Requiring that the groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) in their basin receives all pleading and briefing materials from involved parties.
- Allowing the court to refer groundwater adjudications to the State Water Resources Control Board, helping courts to better scientifically understand groundwater use in a basin.
- Creating precautionary measures to prevent the over-pumping of groundwater amidst an adjudication ruling.
As students in UCLA Law’s California Environmental Legislation and Policy Clinic for the 2022-2023 academic year, Davies, McAleer, and Rosenfeld provided several rounds of research memos before settling on a final proposal with Assemblymember Wilson’s office. In March of 2023, the law students travelled to Sacramento to supply expert witness testimony in support of AB 779.
Julia Stein, Deputy Director of the UCLA Emmett Institute, supervised the clinic students, along with Emmett Fellow Beth Kent. “We were thrilled to collaborate with Assemblymember Wilson’s office to advance equity in the groundwater adjudication process,” Stein said. “The student team did incredible legwork to support AB 779’s passage.”
Davies, McAleer and Rosenfeld look to the future in their recent blog post stating, “While there is still much to be done to ensure sustainable and equitable management of our state’s precious groundwater resources, these provisions would make meaningful progress.”