With the stroke of his pen, the Governor changed over 100 years of water laws – without the people’s input. This is not the democracy Californians deserve.” – State Senator Jim Nielsen

In the midst of drought and heightened overdrafting problems, California passed legislation allowing the state to control and regulate the use of groundwater on privately-owned land. Citizens, previously free to use whatever water was underneath their own land, are now preparing to challenge this governmental undermining of their property rights in court.

Now that landowners will no longer have full rights to the water underneath their own property, the state will have the final say on how much groundwater should be used – complete with power to enforce via fines and fees.

The new laws will create agencies to function as “water police.” Landowners will be required to register wells on their property, which will be monitored with water meters and subject to inspections without consent. If they don’t comply with standards set by faceless bureaucrats, they’ll be subject to penalties or even have their wells shut down.

Restrictions could seriously affect local farmers who use groundwater to grow crops and feed livestock, not to mention use in their own homes. These same farmers produce a considerable percentage of the nation’s produce. Increased regulation may also negatively affect land value.

The state legislature apparently didn’t trust the public enough to include them in deliberations. Perhaps they feared the public wouldn’t support new measures which will likely intensify existing regional water tensions, pitting “the little guys against the big boys.” The new regulations also conveniently exempt “the largest consuming counties like Los Angeles and their basins.”

The bills were “hastily cobbled together without regard to historical legal precedent and private property water rights,” says Nielsen.  Yet, Governor Jerry Brown signed them anyway.

The legislation will go into effect on January 1, 2015, and lawsuits are sure to follow. Groundwater pumping in Kings County has not been regulated like this before, although NASA satellites have been gathering information about private pumping for a decade. The courts will have the job of delineating between personal property rights and the scope of public regulation.

Many are preparing to preserve what can be salvaged of citizens’ property rights in the wake of the legislation. The California Farm Bureau Federation opposed the new laws and will be closely monitoring implementation.

Erik Kaeding, deputy Kings County counsel, framed the issue now that the law has been passed:

If I’m an overlying landowner, I have the right to pump as much water as I can for reasonable and beneficial use on my own land. The questions are going to be about what is reasonable and beneficial.

And who will be deciding that question now? Not the people, not the local government, but the state. As usual, regulation requires more regulation. Gov. Brown is now pushing for more legislation to “streamline resolution” of the expected avalanche of lawsuits.

Worse yet, the laws require local agencies to produce new sustainability plans within 5-7 years. To complicate matters, that process will likely be drawn out, as the courts tease out all the implications of the new laws. If sustainability plans don’t pass muster, the state will have the power to take direct control of groundwater. Local governments may very well be caught in a catch-22.

Nielsen acknowledges that California needs to face its water use problems, but says tighter state control is not the answer. A better solution can be found through responsible local management. Instead of handing down legislation that gives “dictatorial control to state agencies,” the state should work with local governments and include the input of citizens. One thing’s for sure: an element as vital to life as water should not be in the hands of the government.

After all, he who controls the water, controls everything.

This article first appeared on Breitbart.

About The Author

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.

11 Responses

  1. Sandy Drake

    Water is now and has always been gold. There are NO trespassing laws too, so beware of the owner with her second amendment rights.

  2. Jerry

    Unlawful and unconstitutional. California, or any state in America, is not subject to dictators or impostors imposing their twisted agendas upon the good people of it’s citizenry.

  3. Evon

    More of our freedoms taken away in an attempt to implement Agenda 21. Wake up America. Your land will be next to be taken away from you! Known fact !! I am so pissed it is happening in my lifetime. Land grabs galore in the rural california will be next under the green movement windmill and solar farms and oh yes the high speed train. We will have our land taken from us in the next five years.

  4. cindy

    Do we tell the government to die ? Hell, even if the people voted to dissolve the govt so.ething tells me it would somehow persist.

  5. R

    does that go for every county,less water for the population,more water for J G Boswell?

  6. Jim Phillips

    Just because the governor signed the legislation into law, does not make it right! I’m so infuriated with the current politics at the state and federal level. Most farmers do all they can to conserve water, if not for the land and environment, for the future of their farming operation, their kids future and the cost of pumping the water.
    The only reason the legislation is directed towards the farmers, because we are the minority. The politicians don’t want to lose votes with the majority, not forcing LA basin to conserve is a huge mistake!
    Compare it to Obama care, it’s forced on us, yet it’s not good enough for our elected officials?
    When are we going to stand together and fight back? Unless your a farmer, I don’t think you’ll know how a farmer feels about their ground, there could be some blood spilled over this one?

  7. BE

    The key to California water rights had been, “Reasonable and Beneficial use”. In the Central Vally of CA where I live, the aquifer we draw our household water from has been over drafted for the past 30 years. The water table has been dropping 5+ feet per year, every year. In as little as 10 years we will be out of potable groundwater. Yet the marginal grazing land around my community, with no previous groundwater use, (and in the middle of this extreme drought), is being converted to permanent nut crops at an alarming rate which will add unprecedented new water draws on our aquifer. Even many of our farming neighbors say someone has to intervene to save them from themselves. CA is one of the last states to regulate groundwater use. It’s about time.

  8. Betsy Cambareri

    I’m not sure that this new regulation is the right way to go, but I do know that surrounding counties have been handing out new well permits right and left, and I know of residences who have gone dry because neighboring farms have put in new wells and can pump as much as they want. Not fair that I’ll have to spend $20k to put in a new well while the ag surrounding me pumps the aquifers dry so that they can continue their commercial gain. What I resent most is the fact that, during a historical drought, relatively low water use open pastureland is allowed to be developed with new housing or crops. There should be a moratorium on new development that would greatly increase the demands on ground water during droughts.

  9. Stephanie

    If these morons were to shut down somebody’s well, isn’t that illegal? That is a necessity of life. A house is not supposed to be occupied if there are no utilities, so then what happens? Just how much are they going to let people use?
    Well owners do not even get a higher base line from SCE, they don’t care that you need your electricity for water so therefore you will be using more. They just want money.
    So if the government wants to butt in on my well business, if it goes dry are they going to drill it deeper for me at no cost? Are they going to help with repairs?

    If you cannot be bothered to help me when I need it after you start spying on me and telling me what I can do. Go away!

    When is this moron leaving office, between him and the other moron I get so disgusted with their stupidity that it feels like they are NEVER GOING AWAY.

  10. vikingmatt

    good luck trying to charge the people around me for our water. It will end up with a lot of serious actions taken against anyone trying to enforce this tyranical law. gov brown needs to be removed with extreme predjudice.


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