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Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary v. Golden State Water Co.

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20302
Nos. B225058, (Cal. App. 2d Dist., 09/27/2011)

A California appellate court reversed and remanded a lower court decision denying water districts' motion to amend a 1961 judgment that imposed a "physical solution" on the West Coast groundwater basin. The districts wanted to store water in underground dewatered storage spaces of the basin that were not part of the physical solution in the 1961 judgment. The lower court denied the motion to amend the judgment out of concern that certain express and implied findings in the proposed amendment might ultimately be inconsistent with any later environmental impact report (EIR) prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act. But the lower court erred in denying the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. Under California's constitutional approach to water law, if the parties could not agree on a resolution of the issue presented in the motion to amend the judgment, the lower court had a duty to admit evidence, and if necessary, suggest a physical solution for use of dewatered acreage. The lower court also erred in requiring the districts to obtain EIRs prior to litigating a physical solution to the issue of dewatered acreage. The express language of Water Code §107534 prohibited the districts from adopting the storage plan without court approval due to the existing court order imposing a physical solution on the basin. The court therefore reversed and remanded the matter for a full hearing on a physical solution to the water storage issue.