Special Topics


Donative Tax Deduction for Water Right Dedication

Since October 2010, first on behalf of RRI and now as of Counsel for Trout Unlimited’s (TU) Western Water Project based in Bozeman, Montana, Tom has directed and led a regional federal tax law and policy campaign to affirm the federal tax deductibility of water right donations. Remarkably, this federal tax precedent has not already been established. Such a tax incentive would be analogous to land donations made through conservation easements – a tool that has led to millions of acres saved in its four decades of use.

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Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (2014)

Three historic groundwater bills (SB 1168, SB 1319 and AB 1739) were signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 16, 2014. These bills create a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history.

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Compliance for Cannabis Waste Discharge and Water Supply Regulations

On August 13, 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board took the lead among the nine Regional Water Quality Boards in California by passing Order No. 2015-0023, “Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements and General Water Quality Certification for Discharges of Waste Resulting from Cannabis Cultivation and Associated Activities or Operations with Similar Environmental Effects In the North Coast Region.” While the North Coast Board was the first (followed by the Central Valley Board in early October) all nine of the Boards are mandated to promulgate Cannabis Regulations under new laws passed by the Governor.

The Board’s Order provides an incentive for existing cannabis growers by offering a waiver to early adopters. Those who respond to the Order by February 15, 2016 will fall under a tiered system according to the nature of their operations and the risk those operations represent for water quality. Those who do not respond will be subject to civil liabilities and other formal enforcement actions including state liens applied to their property, and potential forfeiture of their land.

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Prop 1 Funds for Conservation Projects and Voluntary Markets

In November 2014, Californians voted YES on Proposition 1 authorizing a $7.5 billion water bond, including $200 million for the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) for projects that enhance stream flow (including express acquisition of water rights).

In addition, between 2015 and 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Coastal Conservancy, and others will have hundreds of millions, potentially over a billion dollars, to spend on fisheries and ecosystem protection, enhancement, and restoration.

Eligible projects types include: onsite recycled water opportunities, ornamental and agricultural irrigation best management strategies, Low Impact Development (LID) storm water infiltration, Water Conservation Management Best Management Practices (BMP) employment, and voluntary water right transactions such as acquisition, lease, and donations.

Across the state, Hicks has met with and is in stages of discussion with a variety of landowner and institutional water users to discuss how to link onsite water conservation with enhanced stream flows. These conversations confirm a landowner willingness to parlay the drought into a new level of stewardship responsibility to take care of endangered species. In exchange, there is interest in new assurances of water supply reliability.

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