APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Thomas I. McKnew, Jr., Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS129817)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flier, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1
This appeal follows the declaration by the respondent Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) of a "water emergency" in the Central Basin, a groundwater basin. Under the terms of a judgment governing the Central Basin, a water emergency may be declared when the Central Basin resources risk degradation. The judgment empowers WRD to declare the water emergency. The judgment governed not only a declared water emergency but also provided a comprehensive framework for water use in the Central Basin. It imposed a "'physical solution,'" best described as "'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 and to maximize the beneficial use of water, with recognition that it is a limited resource.' [Citation.]" (Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary v. Golden State Water Co. (2011) 205 Cal.App.4th 534, 538, fn. 2 (Hillside).)
Notwithstanding the comprehensive nature of the judgment, this appeal concerns only the declared water emergency. In a petition for writ of mandate, appellant Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD) challenged the declared water emergency on the ground that WRD did not comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources, § 12000 et seq.),*fn2 a broad environmental law applying to most public agencies' decisions to approve projects that could adversely affect the environment. (1 Kostka et al., Practice Under the California Environmental Quality Act (2d ed. 2008) § 1.1, pp. 2-3.) CBMWD appeals from the order sustaining WRD's demurrer to CBMWD's petition for writ of mandate. We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
CBMWD is a municipal water district, and WRD is a water replenishment district. Both agencies' powers are statutorily defined. (Wat. Code, §§ 60000 et seq., 71000 et seq.) The 1991 Second Amended Judgment (the Judgment) governs the Central Basin. It affords WRD the power to declare a water emergency. The Judgment also establishes the water rights of numerous entities with the right to extract water from the Central Basin (referred to as pumpers). Declaring a water emergency alters the portion of a pumper's allocation of water that the pumper may "carryover" to another year, meaning the entity retains the right to that water longer than it otherwise would.*fn3 It also permits a longer period to replace a pumper's over-extraction of ground water (i.e., an extraction of an amount greater than the pumper's annual allotment).*fn4
Pursuant to the Judgment, WRD is empowered to declare a water emergency if the following conditions are met: "without implementation of the water emergency provisions of this Judgment, the water resources of the Central Basin risk degradation." The Judgment imposes a limit of one year on a declared water emergency, though the term may be less than one year. The Judgment reserves continuing jurisdiction to the court.
On November 19, 2010, WRD declared a water emergency, which by later resolution expired on June 30, 2011. On December 29, 2010, CBMWD challenged the declared water emergency in a petition for writ of mandate, contending that WRD was required to follow CEQA prior to declaring a water emergency. CBMWD argued that the declaration of a water emergency had environmental consequences because it increased the pumpers' carryover rights and extended from one year to five years the period in which pumpers could replace over-extracted water. CBMWD argued that "WRD ignored the significant environmental impacts associated with substantially increased short-term holding and long-term pumping of groundwater resources allocated as Drought Carryover to Central Basin extractors . . . and did not even bother to contemplate the impacts associated with the delayed replacement of over-pumped ground water supplies over a 5 year period . . . as a result of the 5 Year Replenishment." According to CBMWD, the consequences of the declared water emergency "may result in significant environmental effects."
WRD demurrered, and the trial court sustained WRD's demurrer to the petition, finding that CBMWD could not state a cause of action under CEQA. The court noted that the declaration of a water emergency had been approved in the Judgment. The court concluded, "WRD's declaration was under authority granted by the judgment. The WRD although a public agency in most respects was not acting as such in this situation, but rather as an agent of the court. See California American Water v. City of Seaside (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 471. Therefore, the 'activity' was approved by the court, not a public agency." The trial court explained: "the mechanism for challenging the court ruling or activities conducted pursuant to the judgment are provided for in the judgment. Those matters are reviewed by the court with retained jurisdiction to oversee the judgment. Groundwater usage authorized by and consistent with the governing judgment for the groundwater basin is exempt from CEQA because such area is reserved 'for resolution by the court or the Watermaster.' California American Water v. City of Seaside[, supra, at pp.] 481-482. Water rights adjudication, not CEQA, 'governs the environmental aspects of groundwater usage' [citations]." This appeal followed.
While this case was pending, the parties have been litigating the propriety of the declared water emergency in another court -- the one with continuing jurisdiction over the case. In that case, the Cities of Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill, later joined by CBMWD, argued the declared water emergency was unjustified under the terms of the Judgment. That court stayed all consequences of the declared water emergency.*fn5
We conclude the trial court properly sustained WRD's demurrer to CBMWD's petition for writ of mandate because CEQA does not apply and even if it did, it would be trumped by the physical solution governing the Central Basin. We decline to consider CBMWD's ...