Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


Barry Epstein


Nearly ten years ago, California’s Legislature enacted Senate Bill (SB) 610, a new law requiring that any proposed large development project receiving local land use approvals be supported by a Water Supply Assessment demonstrating available water supply to meet the project’s 20-year forecast water demand. While some, perhaps most, proposed large development projects are within the service territory of large, public or private municipal water purveyors whose entitlement to the water they deliver is well-established (though not necessarily adequate or secure), developments outside the service territory of such water purveyors can require more scrutiny of the underlying water rights entitlement to the proposed water supply. This article presents a single case study of one such proposed project, the River Ranch Estates development, which was to be built in a rural agricultural area of Madera County, northeast of Fresno. After reviewing the background of SB 610, the proposed development project, and the proposed source of water supply for the project, the tale of the challenge to the existence of the claimed water rights entitlements is told through the briefs of the parties to the lawsuit that ensued once Madera County approved the project.