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California Groundwater Association v. Semitropic Water Storage District

November 9, 2009; as modified November 19, 2009

CALIFORNIA GROUNDWATER ASSOCIATION, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
SEMITROPIC WATER STORAGE DISTRICT, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Kern County. William D. Palmer, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. S-1500-CV-264061 WDP).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Vartabedian, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This is an appeal from judgment entered against plaintiff and appellant California Groundwater Association after the court sustained the demurrer of defendant and respondent Semitropic Water Storage District. Appellant contends the trial court erred in concluding that Water Code section 13750.5 does not apply to public entities such as respondent. For reasons that follow, we agree with appellant: If respondent "undertake[s] to dig, bore, or drill a water well, cathodic protection well, groundwater monitoring well, or geothermal heat exchange well, to deepen or reperforate" any such well, or "to abandon or destroy" any such well, "the person responsible for that construction, alteration, destruction, or abandonment [must] possess[] a C-57 Water Well Contractor‟s License." (Wat. Code, § 13750.5.)*fn1 Accordingly, we reverse the judgment.

Facts and Procedural History

This appeal comes to us after the trial court sustained respondent‟s demurrer and appellant declined to amend its complaint. ""We treat the demurrer as admitting all material facts properly pleaded, but not contentions, deductions or conclusions of fact or law. [Citation.] We also consider matters which may be judicially noticed.‟" (Blank v. Kirwan (1985) 39 Cal.3d 311, 318.)

Appellant is a nonprofit corporation; its members are involved in various aspects of water well drilling, as well as installation and maintenance of related equipment for production of water from wells. Respondent is a water storage district formed pursuant to the California Water Storage District Law, Water Code section 39000 et seq. (See generally Johnson v. Arvin-Edison Water Storage Dist. (2009) 174 Cal. App.4th 729, 733-734.) Prior to 2007, respondent hired licensed contractors to drill its water wells through a competitive bidding process. Such contractors held the necessary C-57 well-drilling license issued by the Contractors‟ State License Board pursuant to the Contractors‟ State License Law, Business and Professions Code section 7000 et seq. Beginning in 2007, respondent began using its employees to perform these well services; none of these employees held a C-57 license.

Appellant sued respondent for declaratory and injunctive relief. After the court denied appellant‟s application for a preliminary injunction, respondent filed its demurrer to the complaint. After hearing, the court determined as a matter of law that appellant did not and could not state a cause of action. Appellant did not request leave to amend its complaint. The court entered judgment of dismissal, and appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.

Discussion*fn2

A. Statutory Language

Division 7 of the Water Code is known as the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (hereafter the water quality act). (Wat. Code, § 13020.) The water quality act was adopted in 1969 to address conservation, control, and utilization of water resources in the state and to protect the quality of such water. (Id. at § 13000; see generally Stats. 1969, ch. 482, § 18.) The water quality act required any person drilling or performing a wide range of other activities in conjunction with, inter alia, water wells to file with the California Department of Water Resources a notice of intent to perform those activities. (Wat. Code, former § 13750, repealed by Stats. 1996, ch. 581.)*fn3 The water quality act also requires every such person to file a report with the department within 30 days after the well-related activities. (Id. at § 13751.) These requirements are applicable to "every person" who performs the well-related activities. A "person" is defined to "include[] any city, county, district, the state and the United States, to the extent authorized by federal law." (Id. at § 13050, subd. (c).) Respondent concedes it is a "person" required to file notices of intent to drill and completion reports under the water quality act.

In 1986, the Legislature added Water Code section 13750.5 to the water quality act. (See Stats. 1986, ch. 1373, § 2.5.) Section 13750.5 provides that "no person" shall undertake the specified well-related activities "unless the person responsible for that construction, alteration, destruction, or abandonment possesses a C-57 Water Well Contractor‟s License."

On its face, then, and read in the context of the water quality act, section 13750.5 plainly requires respondent to engage in the specified well-related activities only when the individual responsible for the activities is a licensed water well contractor.

C-57 licenses are issued by the Contractors‟ State Licensing Board pursuant to the Contractors‟ State License Law, Business and Professions Code section 7000 et seq. (hereafter the licensing law).*fn4 The licensing law, in general, applies to contractors who engage in a wide variety of construction activities, as set forth in detail at section 7026 (defining "contractor"). Again speaking generally, the licensing law is intended to ...


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