City of Pasadena v. City of Alhambra
California Supreme Court
207 P.2d 17, 33 Cal. 2d 908 (1949)
The Raymond Basin aquifer provided a source of groundwater accessed by multiple municipalities, public utilities, corporations, and individuals. Water rights in the aquifer included those with overlying appurtenant property rights, but, to a greater extent, water rights were established by appropriation by prescriptive users. The basin reached an overdraft situation—the withdrawal of more water than the basin’s ability to naturally replenish—in 1913. Thereafter, basin wells showed ever-decreasing water levels even though pumping could continue. The City of Pasadena (plaintiff), concerned that the basin would become unusable in the future, brought an action to establish groundwater rights and enjoin overdraft from the basin. The trial court determined that the annual safe yield of the basin was 18,000 acre-feet per year compared to the actual use of 24,000 acre-feet per year. Most parties entered into a stipulation that limited annual withdrawals to the safe yield and cut water-right allocations by a third. The trial court issued an order based on the stipulation. The California-Michigan Land and Water Company (the water company) (defendant), which had not joined the stipulation, appealed to the California Supreme Court. Though one option would have been to eliminate the pumping rights of later-in-time appropriators, the focus of the appeal was on whether basin water rights had become prescriptive and, if so, to what extent. Pasadena and the stipulating parties contended that due to the extensive overdraft, all of the water rights and appropriations had become mutually prescriptive and, therefore, of equal standing.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Gibson, C.J.)
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