Thomas M. Berliner


  • Thomas M. Berliner
  • Phone: +1 415 957 3333

    Thomas M. Berliner - LinkedIn Import to Address Book

  • Duane Morris LLP
    Spear Tower
    One Market Plaza, Suite 2200
    San Francisco, CA 94105-1127

Thomas M. Berliner focuses his practice on water, energy, environmental and governmental/municipal law and previously chaired the firm's Water Resources and Renewable Energy and Sustainability Groups. He is one of the original founders of Duane Morris’ San Francisco office and was its first managing partner.

Mr. Berliner's practice includes advising public entities and private clients on all aspects of water supply, hydropower, energy development, renewable and sustainable energy practices, natural resources and environmental compliance and litigation. Mr. Berliner serves as general and special counsel to both agricultural and urban water supply agencies. He also advises municipalities, special districts, private individuals and companies on municipal affairs and government procurement. Mr. Berliner represents clients before local, state and federal agencies on administrative, regulatory and legislative matters.

In the area of pro bono, Mr. Berliner provides counsel regarding water issues to Community Water Centers, including legal issues involving disadvantaged communities in California's Central Valley, and NatureBridge, especially with regard to the National Education Science Center in the Sierra Nevada adjacent to Yosemite National Park. He also represents the George Washington High School Alumni Association in connection with preserving historic murals.

Prior to joining Duane Morris, Mr. Berliner was General Counsel to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), where for nearly 20 years he advised the PUC and San Francisco's Mayors, Boards of Supervisors and various operating departments on matters pertaining to water and energy utilities and municipal affairs. He is a board member of the Water Education Association, President of the Board of Governors of the California Water Political Action Committee and member of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Mr. Berliner is a graduate of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, where he was a founder of the Hastings International and Comparative Law Journal, and a graduate of the University of California at Davis.

Representative Matters

  • Representation of investor-owned utilities on water transfers.

  • Representation of real estate developers on water transfers, CEQA and WSA matters.

  • Representation of farmers and ranchers regarding water rights and water supply in contested proceedings before SWRCB.

  • Representation of water agency regarding water quality and discharges from reservoir.

  • Representation of irrigation interests on the San Joaquin River regarding impacts resulting from the restoration of the San Joaquin River.

  • Representation of M&I and agricultural water agencies regarding Bay-Delta matters.

  • Representation of agricultural and urban water agencies regarding compliance with Proposition 218, surface water supplies and management of groundwater resources, concluding the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGWA).

  • Representation of State Water Contractor interests regarding issues pertaining to the SWP contracts and related state legislation.

  • Preparation and defense of NEPA and CEQA documents concerning water supply, water storage and conveyance facilities, water contracts, water quality standards setting processes; hydropower licensing, federal contracting and federal land permitting. Examples include representation of urban water suppliers in numerous proceedings to establish WQ standards for the Bay-Delta region of California; representation of customers of the California State Water Project in the FERC relicensing of Oroville Dam; multiple matters on behalf of water agency that serves Silicon Valley, including contract negotiations with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

  • Preparation and defense of CEQA and NEPA environmental documents for hydropower and water development projects, including prosecution of a CEQA challenge to a water development project on the Sacramento River and defense of numerous challenges to water agencies regarding a variety of water development projects.

  • Defense of industrial dischargers regarding stormwater discharges and NPDES permits. Examples include representation of a concrete manufacturer regarding alleged discharge violations of the general discharge permit and representation of a sand and gravel processor regarding discharges to San Francisco Bay.

  • Representation of public entities before regional water quality control boards (RWQCBs) regarding groundwater and surface water pollution/discharges.

  • Representation of wastewater system operator regarding compliance with contractual obligations to municipality.

  • Negotiations of lease agreements for quarry operators including on behalf of landowner as well as the quarry operator as lessee.

  • Representation of large urban water agency regarding renewals of contracts with the United States Bureau of Reclamation, including contract negotiation, environmental compliance, and litigation.

  • Negotiation of legislation to amend water transfer provisions in the California Water Code.

  • Prosecution of water rights on behalf of wineries in Northern California.

  • Negotiation of streambed alteration permits on behalf of an agricultural water users.

  • Recurring advice to numerous clients regarding water transfers and exchanges.

  • Representation of water agency regarding acquisitions of another water agency and related water supplies.

  • Representation of agricultural and urban water users and power suppliers in hydropower relicensing before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state and federal courts.

  • Represented a public agency before the California Public Utilities Commission regarding divestiture of PG&E's assets.

  • Representation on legal and policy matters in all aspects of City of San Francisco's operation of utilities serving retail and wholesale water to 2.4 million customers of the San Francisco Water Department, legal and policy advice regarding development, generation and sales of hydropower with capacity of 400MW for Hetch Hetchy Water and Power Department, and oversight of legal advice regarding wastewater treatment for the San Francisco Clean Water Program.

  • Representation of San Francisco in the "Bay-Delta" hearings and other water rights proceedings before the State Water Resources Control Board. Member, Ag/Urban Policy Workgroup. Policy/legal representative for San Joaquin River Group affairs, including negotiation and drafting of Vernalis Adaptive Management Plan.

  • Represented San Francisco before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in landmark proceeding involving establishment of fishery flows and other environmental measures on the Tuolumne River in California. This five-year regulatory proceeding resulted in first-ever mediation conducted under auspices of FERC. Also represented San Francisco in three other proceedings at FERC concerning licensing of hydropower facilities.

  • Representation of San Francisco and other California urban water suppliers before the State Legislature, Congress and federal regulatory agencies on matters of concern regarding California and western water issues.

  • Negotiated interconnection agreements, electricity sales contracts, utility undergrounding agreements and load transfer agreements. Negotiated and provided advice regarding financial and strategic partnerships for acquisition/disposition of fossil fuel plants owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Areas of Practice

  • Water Rights
  • Energy Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Municipal Law
  • Government Relations


  • California
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • Supreme Court of the United States


  • University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, J.D., 1978
  • University of California, Davis, A.B., 1975


  • Duane Morris LLP - Partner, 1998-present
  • General Counsel and Water Counsel, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
  • San Francisco City Attorney's Office, Deputy City Attorney

Professional Activities

  • Board Member, Water Education Foundation
  • Board of Governors, California Water Political Action Committee
  • The State Bar of California
  • Association of California Water Agencies

Honors and Awards

  • Listed in The Best Lawyers in America, 2007-2024

  • Named a Best Lawyers "Lawyer of the Year" in Water Law, San Francisco, 2022 and 2024
  • Honored as an Environmental Law Trailblazer in The National Law Journal, 2016
  • Listed in Best Lawyers in Northern California, Wall Street Journal, 2016
  • Listed in Northern California Super Lawyers

Civic and Charitable Activities

  • Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors
  • Congregation Rodef Sholom
  • Handicapped Access Appeals Board, City and County of San Francisco
  • Independent Living Resource Center
  • Jewish Community Federation
  • United Jewish Appeal
  • San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
    - Water Committee

Selected Publications

  • Co-author, "'Not Unbounded': The Reach of State Authority Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act," ABA Water Resources Committee Newsletter
  • Co-author, "California Leads the Way on Cap and Trade - Will the Nation Follow?"
  • Co-author, "New Endorsement of State Authority Under the Clean Water Act: S.D. Warren v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection," Western Water Law & Policy Reporter

Selected Speaking Engagements

  • Debate Participant, "Proposition F, Should Hetch Hetchy Be Drained?" American Society of Civil Engineers
  • Speaker, "A Groundwater Short Course," Marin Conservation League
  • Panelist, Debating Impacts of Climate change on California Water Rights, California Water Policy Conference
  • Panelist, Hydropower Licensing, 401 Certifications, Associate of California Water Agencies ("ACWA")
  • Program Co-Chair, "The Water/Energy Nexus," LSI, San Diego
  • Speaker, "California's Water System," California County Counsel Association
  • Speaker, "Investing In Water," CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund
  • Panelist, "Reasonable Use of Water," Hasting College of the Law - Water Law Symposium
  • Panelist, "Dam Decommissioning," American Bar Association, San Diego, California
  • Panelist, "The Role of Hydropower and Implications for Global Climate Change," Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts
  • Panelist, "Vulnerability Assessments Under the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002," Association of California Water Agencies
  • "FERC Hydro Relicensing, PG&E Bankruptcy, Southern California Edison Settlement, CPUC Divestiture Proceeding, and EBMUD Freeport Project," Association of California Water Agencies Conference, San Diego, California
  • "California Bay-Delta: A Microcosm for the Future," Seventh Annual Meeting of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, San Francisco, California
  • Water Rights and Annual Executive Briefing, Water Education Foundation Annual Legal Conference, San Francisco, California, annual engagement
  • "Stadiums: The San Francisco Giants, 49'ers, and You," American Bar Association's Annual Conference, San Francisco, California
  • United States Bureau of Reclamation, Innovations Conference, Central Valley Project Improvement Act, Sacramento, California
  • "Mediation of Hydropower Licensing Proceedings Before the FERC," American Bar Association's Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Section, Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida
  • "Water Rights and Amendments to the Water Code," State Water Resources Control Board's Annual Retreat, Long Beach, California
  • Commonwealth Club of California: Water Rights and Bay-Delta Hearings, San Francisco, California