Helping Southern California's Inland Empire Manage its Most Precious Natural Resource
The Southern California Inland Empire is home to more than two million people and a billion-dollar economy. The area depends heavily on groundwater supplies to meet the drinking water and economic needs of a broader regional community.
The Inland Empire’s most significant resource, the Chino Basin, was suffering from an increase in salts and the threat of environmental degradation. At the same time, population growth and increasing water demands intensified the need for improved water supply reliability. The Basin required more than $300 million in projected capital projects, and there was little agreement on how to fund the efforts. Time and again, litigation and the absence of a consensus-based deal structure thwarted progress.
The Chino Basin Watermaster needed a sound legal framework to control, if not end, legal conflicts. Ideally, the framework would provide a comprehensive agreement that would help foster investment and expand financial benefits. A series of smaller agreements and judicial support would be required to implement any overarching framework. To achieve success, more than a dozen public agencies, private interests, agricultural operations and state offices would have to reach an accord.
Serving as General Counsel to the Chino Basin Watermaster since 2000, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has dedicated itself to facilitating an innovative Optimum Basin Management Program that takes groundwater management to new heights. With the help of Brownstein Water attorneys, the Chino Basin Watermaster established a remarkable public/private partnership that created a structure for an active local water market. Among the most fully developed in California, the eight-year-old water market trades thousands of acre-feet annually. Today, the Watermaster also administers groundwater storage agreements with local agencies and the Metropolitan Water District, with more than 300,000 acre-feet in total storage.
Brownstein attorneys also assisted the Watermaster with permitting and legal establishment for an innovative groundwater desalting program. Designed as a method to protect the Basin’s sustainable yield, the desalinization system is now fully operational and the subject of further expansion.
In addition, Brownstein attorneys helped the Watermaster secure a 2007 court approval to pursue a forward-thinking engineering plan that will increase the use of recycled water and substantially reduce discharges of water into the Santa Ana River.
Remarkably, these efforts have been carried out under judicial oversight but without significant opposition or litigation. The efforts have dramatically improved water supply reliability in the Chino Basin and yielded economic benefits to the Inland Empire well in excess of $1 billion.
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