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Water Law

Water Law

Hanson Bridgett has decades of experience representing public agencies, private companies, and individuals in all areas relating to water, including highly complex water rights, water quality and water resource issues. Clients include water districts, irrigation districts, municipalities, reclamation districts, groundwater sustainability agencies, farmers, ranchers, investors, lenders, developers, and construction materials producers. We represent our clients’ interests in California and throughout the West. 


Our philosophy is to seek solutions to problems that avoid disputes and litigation whenever possible. But when necessary, we will be tenacious advocates for our clients. We have litigated numerous water rights matters including those involving the adjudication of groundwater rights, the adjudication of surface water rights, defense of groundwater sustainability plans, groundwater banking operations, groundwater ordinances, as well as related environmental and endangered species issues. We have represented numerous clients in both state and federal court, as well as in administrative proceedings before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB or State Board) and its Administrative Hearings Office.  

Water Rights

Hanson Bridgett attorneys have a deep understanding of the complexities and nuances of California's water rights system. We have worked to obtain new water rights before the State Board, evaluate historical "pre-1914" water right claims, analyze the scope of riparian water rights by chain of title, and comply with evolving State Board orders and regulations.  

We also assist landowners and investors by performing due diligence on extent and scope of water rights. This work is frequently done for private equity groups, lenders and pension funds and involves presentation of in-depth analysis and reports to investment committees.  


We assist public agencies and private clients with groundwater issues, including implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and basin boundary modifications. In this area, we have formed and represent numerous groundwater sustainability agencies, and counselled agencies and landowners regarding the development and implementation of groundwater sustainability plans. We also represent clients in the defense of groundwater sustainability plans in state court, as well as defending the adequacy of plans before the State Board. 

Water Quality

Our water expertise extends to water quality issues as well. We represent clients in California with permitting compliance for wastewater, stormwater, recycled water, produced water, agricultural, and dredge/fill discharges to surface water, groundwater, and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. Our attorneys also act on behalf of local regulators to enforce state and federal clean water laws.

Environmental & Endangered Species

Our water attorneys represent numerous public agencies in environmental compliance and litigation, including matters involving the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). We also represent clients in permitting and litigation involving the federal and California Endangered Species Acts (ESA), and lake or streambed alteration agreements with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. 


We assist clients faced with impacts from floodwaters and impacts to stormwater infrastructure, levees, and dams, including property damage that may result. This representation requires working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Water Resources, and local flood control agencies, and understanding both what is legally and technically required for protecting health, property, and the environment. And when necessary, we will pursue claims for clients that seek compensation for property taken by or damaged from floodwaters.

General Counsel

Hanson Bridgett has served as general counsel to water and wastewater agencies for decades and provide full service representation to both retail and wholesale entities. For more information on our general counsel capabilities please see our Municipal and Public Agency Practice page. In addition, the firm has expertise in all elements of water and wastewater infrastructure construction and financing; for more information please see our Infrastructure Practice page.

Water Rights Experience

  • Surface water diversions, including fish screens

  • Surface water reservoirs, including fish passage facilities

  • Surface water transfers

  • Sustainable Groundwater Management Act compliance

  • Groundwater adjudications

  • Large-scale groundwater appropriation and interbasin transfer projects

  • Conjunctive use programs, including groundwater recharge with both native and imported water

  • Banking arrangements in off-site groundwater storage

  • Groundwater contamination investigation and remediation

Water Infrastructure Experience

  • Recycled water production, acquisition, transmission and distribution

  • Desalination of brackish groundwater

  • Water and wastewater treatment plants – construction, permitting, and compliance

  • Hydroelectric power generation

  • Infrastructure projects requiring in-water or over-water work

  • Sewer infrastructure project planning and sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) response actions

  • Levee and stormwater infrastructure maintenance and management before and during flooding 

Water Supply & Clean Water Experience

  • Rate structure design and Prop. 218 compliance

  • Wholesale-retail water supply contracts

  • Safe Drinking Water Act compliance

  • Urban Water Management Plans 

  • Groundwater Sustainability Plans

  • Water Supply Assessments (under SB 610)

  • Water availability analysis

  • Water conservation measures and rationing ordinances

  • Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements (Fish and Game Code section 1600)  

  • Interagency consultation and incidental take permitting under the Endangered Species Act

  • Unavoidable impacts to wetlands and creeks

  • Conservation and mitigation banking 

  • Wetlands delineation and protection

  • Dredge and fill Permits under the federal Clean Water Act

  • Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certifications

  • Porter-Cologne Act Waste Discharge Requirements and Water Reclamation Requirements

Key Contacts

Nathan Metcalf
Nathan Metcalf
Walnut Creek, CA
Sean Herman
Sean Herman
San Francisco, CA
David Cameron
David Cameron
Sacramento, CA

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