by Diane G. Kindermann Henderson

California’s legislature has implemented statutory requirements aiming to remedy the communication gap between water suppliers and municipalities when considering land use planning decisions. Senate Bill 610 and Senate Bill 221 require detailed information regarding water availability to be provided to local decision makers of cities and counties prior to approval of specified large development projects. In addition, both statutes require this information be included in the administrative record to serve as the evidentiary basis for an approval action by the city or county on such projects. The Guidebook for Implementation of Senate Bill 610 and Senate Bill 221 of 2001, prepared by the California Department of Water Resources, is a step-by-step manual providing direction on how to effectively complete a SB 610 water assessment and a SB 221 verification of sufficient water supply.

An important aspect to any project, despite its size, is the relationship between the local land use agency and the water supplier during the planning process. The General Plan, prepared by a city or county planning department, and the Urban Water Management Plan, prepared by a water supplier, are the critical source documents used to substantiate the information required by SB 610 and SB 221 at the local level. Both plans design a blueprint of the municipality’s growth over the next twenty years. A specific plan project is a general arrangement of future land uses, primary locations, configurations of water and sewer and the “how-to’s” on their implementations. A specific plan, which usually applies to a smaller geographical area within the municipality’s general plan jurisdiction, must comply not only with the policies and goals of the General Plan, but also must conduct the water assessments mandated under SB 610. (Gov. Code, ch. 643.) During this phase, the water supplier is required to submit a detailed water supply assessment to the city or county. Once the water supplier secures specific water projects through contracts, permits and financing, the city or county will enter the tentative map phase following any zoning action by the municipality. At this point, the water supplier, under SB 221, must tender a written verification establishing that a sufficient water supply exists based on substantial evidence. This verification is known as the “Fail-Safe” Verification of Water Supply. Once these statutory requirements are met, the municipality may proceed with preparing the final map.

The statutory process of providing a detailed water assessment and verifying that an adequate amount of water is available for the project requires the developer or applicant to answer a number of questions to determine whether or not SB 610 and/or SB 221 apply to their project. Should the project qualify as a SB 610 and/or SB 221 project, the developer/applicant will then review a series of questions in order to determine issues such as: 1) Who will prepare the water assessment? 2) Is there a current Urban Water Management Plan? 3) What information should be included in an assessment? 4) Does my subdivision qualify as an exemption from SB 221? 5) Who will prepare the “Fail-Safe” verification? and 6) What information must be included in the water assessment and the verification? Thanks to the Department of Water Resources, answers and topics to consider when reviewing these issues can be found in their Guidebook. Information and visual samples on how to document water supply, water demand, dry-year(s) and more are also available. Should you need aid concerning issues and requirements of this Guidebook, or advice on how to initiate this process, please feel free to give us a call.

Diane Kindermann Henderson is a partner with Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, environmental and planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.