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Water Replenishment District of Southern California v. City of Cerritos et al

January 18, 2012

WATER REPLENISHMENT DISTRICT OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT;
v.
CITY OF CERRITOS ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS; CITY OF LAKEWOOD ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS; CENTRAL BASIN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT, INTERVENOR AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Holly E. Kendig, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. C786656)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flier, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed.

This case concerns unused storage space in the Central Basin, an "'area containing a groundwater reservoir capable of furnishing a substantial water supply.'" (Central and West Basin Water Replenishment Dist. v. Southern Cal. Water Co. (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 891, 896-897, fn. 1 (WRD I).) The Central Basin extends underneath approximately 277 square miles and provides a source of water for cities, municipalities, water companies, school districts, landowners, and others. (Id. at p. 898.) Appellants seek to amend a judgment, originally issued in 1965, which, among other things, allocated the right to extract water from the Central Basin. (Id. at p. 899.)

In 2003, we considered a motion seeking to allocate the underground storage space in the Central Basin to persons with the adjudicated right to extract water from the Central Basin. We found that although the court had jurisdiction to consider the motion, the proposed allocation was inconsistent with the mandate for the beneficial use of water as required by the California Constitution. (WRD I, supra, 109 Cal.App.4th at pp. 903-904, 912-913.) Article X, section 2 of the California Constitution mandates that: "the water resources of the State be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable, and that the waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use of water be prevented, and that the conservation of such water is to be exercised with a view to the reasonable and beneficial use thereof in the interest of the people and for the public welfare."

In 2009, appellants moved to amend the judgment to allocate storage space in a manner different from the proposed allocation we considered in 2003. The trial court did not consider appellants' motion on the merits, but concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the motion in general and to implement specific proposed amendments including (1) contracts between water right holders in the Central and West Coast Basins and (2) the appointment of one appellant as the new watermaster. On appeal, appellants challenge the court's conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction.

Because we previously held that the court had jurisdiction to consider a motion to allocate storage in the Central Basin, we reach the same conclusion here under the doctrine of law of the case. (WRD I, supra, 109 Cal.App.4th 891.) We also conclude that the court erred in (1) finding it lacked jurisdiction to consider a provision governing the contractual transfer of water and (2) finding it was prohibited from appointing one of the appellants as watermaster. We reverse the trial court's order. As this appeal is limited to jurisdictional questions, we do not reach the merits and express no opinion on the desireability of any proposed amendment.

BACKGROUND

1. Parties

Appellant Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) was created by statute for the purpose of replenishing the Central and West Coast Basins. (Wat. Code, § 60000 et seq.)*fn1 Other appellants are the Cities of Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon as well as the Golden State Water Company and the California Water Service Company. Respondents are the Cities of Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill and intervenor Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD).*fn2

In addition to the parties, more than 100 other entities have an adjudicated right to extract water from the Central Basin. (WRD I, supra, 109 Cal.App.4th at pp. 896-897.) According to appellants, collectively appellants hold over 50 percent of the total permissible pumping allocation from the Central Basin.*fn3

2. 1965 Inter Se Judgment

WRD's predecessor sued over 500 parties, resulting in a 1965 consent judgment declaring and establishing water rights in the Central Basin and enjoining extractions from the Central Basin in excess of specified quantities. (WRD I, supra, 109 Cal.App.4th at p. 898.) To meet water requirements in the Central Basin, the judgment imposed a physical solution - "an equitable remedy designed to alleviate overdrafts and the consequential depletion of water resources in a particular area, consistent with the constitutional mandate to prevent waste and unreasonable water use. . . ." (California American Water v. City of Seaside (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 471, 480, citing Cal. Const., art. X, § 2.) The court appointed the California Department of Water Resources as the watermaster to assist the court in administering and enforcing the judgment.

The court reserved continuing jurisdiction to among other things (1) review its "determination of the permissible level of extractions from the Central Basin in relation to achieving a balanced basin and an economic utilization of Central Basin for ground water storage, taking into account any then anticipated artificial replenishment of Central Basin . . ."; (2) appoint a new watermaster and revise the duties of the watermaster; and (3) "provide for such other matters as are not contemplated by the judgment and which might occur in the future, and which if not provided for would defeat any or all of the purposes of this judgment to assure a balanced Central Basin subject to the requirements of Central Basin Area for water required for its needs, growth and development."

3. Second Amended Judgment

The May 1991 Second Amended Judgment is the operative judgment. Like its predecessor, it not only declared the parties' rights but also appointed the California Department of Water Resources as watermaster. As in the ...


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