SCGA Public Affairs


Thursday, September 15, 2022

With California in its third year of a historic drought, the 6th Appellate District Court has ruled that the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) lacks the power to interfere with the ability of “senior” water rights holders to divert water from California’s rivers and streams. Commentators are calling this a major “defeat” for the SWRCB to the degree to which it calls into question the state agency’s legal authority to control diversions by farms and cities.

The case stems from orders imposed by the state board in the last drought (2105) when it halted farms and cities throughout the Central Valley from taking water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, prompting a group of farm-irrigation districts centered in and around the Sacramento Delta to file the lawsuit.

Earlier this year the board ordered roughly 4,500 farms, cities, and other entities to stop taking water out of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the combined volume of which provides roughly 65% of the state’s drinking water. The orders included senior rights holders such as the city of San Francisco and the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, all of which pull water from the Tuolumne River.

The relevance for golf is this. The legal authority to curtail farms and cities’ ability to pull water from rivers and streams is the same legal authority that SWRCB exercised with impunity during the 2014-2016 drought by placing specific conservation requirements on the state’s 450 + water providers. Many will remember just how confounding some of those conservation mandates back in 2014-2016 were – no rational relationship between assigned conservation target and supply – unnecessarily harsh in some areas and utterly inadequate in others.

What does it all mean? It doesn’t necessarily affect the state board’s ability to govern water supplies during the current drought, because the 35-page decision did suggest that the board could exercise such authority over senior rights holders by using the emergency powers of the Governor’s Office. [See SWRCB statement below]

Of course, this is new law; worse, it’s about water law, one of the most confounding areas of law in the Southwest. And that injects a heavy dose of uncertainty into an area that many thought certain.

As one can discern from the statement put out by the Board in response to the 6th Circuit ruling, the SWRCB recognizes the implications of the decision on its continuing ability to be the Governor’s chief enforcement arm, notwithstanding the ruling’s allowance for an “emergency declaration” exception. It’s safe to conclude they’re downright miffed. Here is that statement:
“Water scarcity is one of the most important challenges facing Californians. Ensuring that water districts and others divert and use water consistent with the state’s water right priority system is critical to protecting public health and the delivery system for farms, communities, and the environment.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal’s Sept. 12 decision takes a narrow view of the State Water Resources Control Board’s customary enforcement authorities. In doing so, it shields the most senior water right holders (those with appropriative rights developed before 1914) from certain enforcement actions.

Importantly, the court’s decision does not impact the State Water Board’s ongoing drought response actions, including curtailments of senior water rights, which rely on drought emergency regulations. Likewise, it does not impact the board’s authority to take actions against illegal diversions, nor does it preclude the board from taking enforcement measures to protect water released from storage, such as the State Water Project or Central Valley Project.

During the current water crisis, the board has primarily relied on its emergency regulation authority — enhanced by the Legislature in 2014 — and will continue to do so amid increasing threats to the state’s water supply.”

Mark Twain was on to something when he wrote, “whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting.”

Archived Updates

Opposition to Assembly Bill 1910

Read More →

CGCOA Golf is Good Ambassador Program

Are you interested in becoming an advocate for golf in California? The CGCOA is seeking amateur golfers who are passionate about protecting the game of golf and promoting public policies that enable golf to flourish in California. Take the next step to becoming an advocate for golf by completing the attached Golf is Good Ambassador Application.

Read More →

FORE - Public Affairs

FORE - The magazine of the SCGA. Find archived Public Affairs articles on the website of the SCGA's award winning quarterly publication.

Read More →


It isn’t often that one bill can highlight all that separates one side of California’s great water divide from the other – from those interests fixated on conservation as the focus of future supply and those intent on pursuing a more diversified portfolio – from those who are often accused of believing that California can conserve its way out of its aridification predicament and those who are convinced that if conservation is the only tool in the state’s water resiliency toolbox, California is doomed to be hollowed out in much the same way rust belt cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

Read More →


Charles Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” comes to mind as a good descriptor of where California’s water situation and golf’s place in it stands after back-to-back record precipitation years: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...".

Read More →


Four Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion yesterday that seeks to crack down on what the motion describes as “black-market tee time brokers” who book and resell city golf course tee times for profit.

Read More →


When introduced by Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) February 16, AB 3192 contained a provision that would have banned the use of all nonorganic pesticides and fertilizers on golf resorts in California’s Coastal Zone.

Read More →


A cautionary tale from semi-rural Santa Barbara County to remind you that the pressure to repurpose golf courses is not just a phenomenon in California’s densely packed urban cores.

Read More →


The National Golf Course Owners Association’s (NGCOA) Harvey Silverman may have characterized the City of Los Angeles’ uncommonly quick reaction to intense media scrutiny (five separate Los Angeles Times stories including a Sunday lead editorial) of the depredations of tee time brokering with his quip in the organization’s “Golf Business Weekly” about the city having reacted “faster than fixing potholes.”

Read More →


Every year there seems to be one bill filed in one house of the California Legislature that keeps the California golf community up at night.

Read More →