In our previous post, we began looking generally at the topic of water rights in California, and specifically at the water permitting process. As we noted last time, the State Water Resources Board is responsible for reviewing and granting water permits, and there is a multi-step process the board uses to do this.

The first step of the process is to file an application for a water use permit. Applications are supposed to specifically detail the source of water, the amount to be used, the point or points of diversion, the place where the diverted water will be used, the purpose of the project, and similar details. Preparation of a strong application with accurate information is greatly assisted by working with experienced legal counsel. 

The next step, after the application is accepted, is an environmental review. Environmental review, which involves weighing the impact of the project on the surrounding environment, is required before a permit may be issued. The board determines in this step whether conservation measures are necessary to mitigate environmental impact. At this stage, an experienced attorney can help an applicant negotiate any conservation requirements the board may seek to impose.

Following an environmental review, the public is notified of the project and invited to comment. Protests are provided to the applicant, and a response is required. The board is responsible for helping resolve protests, but it is up to the applicant and protesting parties to come up with acceptable changes to the project.

If no agreement can be reached and a project is small enough, protests can be resolved by an engineering field investigation report, but unresolved protests on large projects are more involved. For these, as well as for appeals of field investigation reports, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the board and the board makes a decision based on the hearing. Navigating public protests can be messy and complicated, but skilled legal counsel can help ensure the process is as smooth as possible and that an applicant’s interests are advocated.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic.