The California Supreme Court Decides ‘Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus,’ Finding Groundwater Well Permits are Discretionary, Now and Then

October 2020

California Water Law & Policy Reporter, Volume 31, Number 1

The last decade has witnessed dramatic shifts in the framework for governance of the state’s groundwater resources, from the California Legislature’s enactment of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to the Third District Court of Appeal’s extension of the common law public trust doctrine to the pumping of groundwater that impairs hyrdologically connected surface waters. During this time, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has also caught the attention of the California Supreme Court. Rather than clarify the law, however, the Court’s decisions have more often created multi-part tests or new interpretations of old precedent, adding to the complexities already facing public agencies in their efforts to navigate the byzantine world of environmental review. The one area of law that seemed to provide lead agencies some clarity is the line of more recent cases clarifying the division between discretionary and ministerial review—the latter are not subject to CEQA.

Subscribers to the California Water Law & Policy Reporter can read the full article here.