Thomas M. Berliner


  • Thomas M. Berliner
  • Phone: +1 415 957 3333
    Fax: +1 415 520 5835

    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. He is chair of the firm's Water Resources and Renewable Energy and Sustainability groups. His 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. 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. He is also a member of the firm's Cuba Business Group.

Prior to joining Duane Morris LLP in 1998, Mr. Berliner was the general counsel to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), where for nearly 20 years he advised the PUC and San Francisco's mayor and board of supervisors on matters pertaining to water and energy utilities and municipal affairs. He is a board member of the Water Education Foundation and a member of the Association of California Water Agencies, the Section of the Environment, Energy and Resources of the American Bar Association and The State Bar of California.

Mr. Berliner is a 1978 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 California Water Agencies before State Water Resources Control Board concerning California WaterFix.
  • Litigated and then negotiated on behalf of the Merced Irrigation District a settlement of a major water litigation case in California against a downstream water user who was claiming a perpetual right to water.
  • Representation of water agencies and private parties regarding water transfers.
  • Advising water agencies regarding Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
  • Advising the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) regarding the renegotiation of the long-term water supply contracts with the customers of the California State Water Project (SWP), which provides in excess of 2,000,000 acre-feet of water per year to over 25 million Californians, 750,000 acres of agriculture, and generates about 6.5 million megawatts of hydroelectric power per year.
  • Advising CDWR regarding issues pertaining to hydropower licensing.
  • Representation of investor-owned utilities on water transfers.
  • Representation of real estate developers on water transfers, CEQA and WSA matters.
  • Representation of rancher regarding water rights in contested proceedings before SWRCB.
  • Representation of vendor to PG&E in general rate case before CPUC.
  • 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 urban water agency regarding compliance with Proposition 218 and management of groundwater resources.
  • 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 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; negotiations on behalf of water agency that serves Silicon Valley in 8 years of contract negotiations with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and representation of federal land permittee in numerous negotiations with Dept. of Interior regarding uses of federal right of way.
  • Preparation and defense of state NEPA environmental documents for hydropower and water development projects. Examples include 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.
  • Negotiation of lease agreement 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 user.
  • 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 consortium of major California water users in hydropower relicensing before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • 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.
  • Representation and advice concerning energy deregulation. Strategic planning and legal advice concerning opportunities created by deregulation.
  • 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.
  • Drought management issues including rationing programs and negotiation of water transfer contracts.

Areas of Practice

  • Water Rights
  • Energy 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, Hastings College of the Law, J.D., 1978
  • University of California, Davis, A.B., 1975


  • Duane Morris LLP - Partner, 1998-present
  • San Francisco City Attorney's Office, San Francisco, California - General Counsel, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, 1996-1998; Water Counsel, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, 1985-1996; Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, California, 1979-1998

Professional Activities

  • Water Committee, Western Growers Association
  • Board Member, Water Education Foundation
  • American Bar Association
    - Section of Environment, Energy and Resources
  • The State Bar of California
  • Association of California Water Agencies

Honors and Awards

  • Named a Best Lawyers "Lawyer of the Year" in Water Law, San Francisco, 2022
  • Listed in The Best Lawyers in America, 2007-2022

  • Listed in Northern California Super Lawyers, 2004-2019

  • Honored as an Environmental Law Trailblazer in The National Law Journal, 2016
  • Listed in Best Lawyers in Northern California, Wall Street Journal, 2016
  • Super Lawyers Corporate Counsel Edition, 2005-2012
  • AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell®

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

Selected Speaking Engagements

  • Panelist, "State of the Drought," Duane Morris LLP - XL Catlin Event, 2015
  • Speaker, "Drought: Water Law and Bay Area Development," Santa Clara County Bar Association, 2015
  • Speaker, "Water in California - Policies and Economics at Play," San Mateo Co. Economic Development Association: SAMCEDA Annual Meeting, 2015
  • Speaker, "Power Outage Shows We Need To Change Our Grid," Huffpost Live, 2013
  • Debate Participant, "Proposition F, Should Hetch Hetchy Be Drained?" American Society of Civil Engineers
  • Speaker, "A Groundwater Short Course," Marin Conservation League, 2012
  • Panelist, Debating Impacts of Climate change on California Water Rights, California Water Policy Conference, 2012
  • Panelist, Hydropower Licensing, 401 Certifications, Associate of California Water Agencies ("ACWA"), 2011
  • Panelist, Water/Energy Nexus, LSI, 2011, San Francisco
  • Program Co-Chair, "The Water/Energy Nexus," LSI, San Diego, 2011
  • Speaker, "It's Raining, So What's to Worry?" Episcopal Homes, 2011
  • Speaker, "California's Water System," California County Counsel Association, 2010
  • Speaker, "Investing In Water," CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, 2010
  • 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, October 8, 1999
  • 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, 1997
  • United States Bureau of Reclamation, Innovations Conference, Central Valley Project Improvement Act, Sacramento, California, 1996
  • "Mediation of Hydropower Licensing Proceedings Before the FERC," American Bar Association's Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Section, Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida, 1995
  • "Water Rights and Amendments to the Water Code," State Water Resources Control Board's Annual Retreat, Long Beach, California, 1991
  • Commonwealth Club of California: Water Rights and Bay-Delta Hearings, San Francisco, California, 1990