Kevin M. O’Brien

Partner

Kevin O’Brien assists clients throughout California in water rights, water quality, endangered species, and environmental matters. His clients include water districts, cities, counties, private landowners, real estate developers, wineries and mining companies.

Kevin represents clients in a broad array of matters relating to water. He handles major administrative proceedings before the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to obtain, modify and protect water rights. He serves as trial counsel in water cases in state and federal courts. And he assists clients in structuring and negotiating transactions relating to the transfer of water rights. Kevin regularly works with various local, state and federal agencies on water matters including the California Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Kevin has a reputation for solving problems.  Clients refer to his calm, respectful approach as a proven asset when working with opposing counsel and agency decision-makers.  Sacramento Lawyer magazine has described him as a lawyer who “advocates principled positions that reflect the law and are intended to achieve a solution for all the parties, not just his clients.”

Kevin is a former Managing Partner of Downey Brand.


Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • American Bar Association, Section of Environment, Energy and Resources. Past Chair, Water Resources Committee
  • University of California, Davis Extension. Former instructor, Groundwater Law
  • State Bar of California, Real Property Law Section. Former member, Executive Committee
  • Solicitor’s Honors Program, U.S. Department of the Interior. Former attorney-advisor
  • Capital Public Radio. Past Chair, Board of Directors
  • Eureka Schools Foundation. Past President

Honors & Rankings

  • AV Preeminent® Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®
  • Best Lawyers in America©, Water Law, Environmental Law, 2015-2020
  • Best Lawyers® 2019 Environmental Law “Lawyer of the Year” in Sacramento
  • Super Lawyers, Northern California Super Lawyer, Environmental, 2012-2020
  • Sacramento Magazine, Top Lawyer, Environmental, Energy & Natural Resources, 2015-2020
  • Sacramento Business Journal, Best of the Bar, 2015-2019
  • Since the 1990s, Kevin has represented a group of northern California water agencies in proceedings before the SWRCB relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta Estuary.
  • He successfully handled a major water right proceeding before the SWRCB that established substantial new appropriative water rights on the Santa Ana River in southern California.
  • He has handled numerous administrative and litigation matters relating to the Salinas River and the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin in Monterey County, California.
  • He has served as trial counsel in two groundwater basin adjudications – the Seaside Basin in Monterey County and the Santa Maria Basin in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, California.
  • He serves as general counsel to a joint exercise of powers agency that serves as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the Yolo Subbasin, in accordance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). He also regularly advises clients on SGMA matters.
  • He has served as an expert witness on water-related issues in two cases. This work included testimony at trial and at an arbitration hearing.
  • He successfully negotiated a water supply agreement between his client, a real estate developer, and a public water district for the provision of a water supply for a 1,600-acre master-planned community located in Madera County, California.
  • He negotiated and successfully implemented one of the first major transfers of State Water Project water from an agricultural water district located in Kern County to a municipal water purveyor located in Contra Costa County, California.

In the News

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Press Releases

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Speaking Engagements / Events

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Legal Alerts

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Publications

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When he’s not practicing water law Kevin enjoys outdoor activities including cycling, alpine and Nordic skiing, hiking and mountaineering.  In 2010 he completed the Haute Route, a demanding 125-mile high level traverse in the French and Swiss Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt (the Route traverses below the summits of 10 of the 12 highest peaks in the Alps and crosses several high passes).  More recently, Kevin has done extensive hiking and mountaineering in the Dolomites region of northern Italy.  Kevin has also hiked portions of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and has done extensive backpacking and mountaineering in southern and central Colorado.


Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • American Bar Association, Section of Environment, Energy and Resources. Past Chair, Water Resources Committee
  • University of California, Davis Extension. Former instructor, Groundwater Law
  • State Bar of California, Real Property Law Section. Former member, Executive Committee
  • Solicitor’s Honors Program, U.S. Department of the Interior. Former attorney-advisor
  • Capital Public Radio. Past Chair, Board of Directors
  • Eureka Schools Foundation. Past President

Honors & Rankings

  • AV Preeminent® Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®
  • Best Lawyers in America©, Water Law, Environmental Law, 2015-2020
  • Best Lawyers® 2019 Environmental Law “Lawyer of the Year” in Sacramento
  • Super Lawyers, Northern California Super Lawyer, Environmental, 2012-2020
  • Sacramento Magazine, Top Lawyer, Environmental, Energy & Natural Resources, 2015-2020
  • Sacramento Business Journal, Best of the Bar, 2015-2019