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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Flushes Challenge |to Calif. Water Transfer

(CN) - A California appeals court cleared the path for the Santa Clarita Valley to receive 41,000 acre-feet of water from nearby districts, rejecting a claim that the water supplier's environmental impact report on the transfer contained a "hole."

Two conservation groups, the Planning and Conservation League and the California Water Impact Network, said the impact report certified by Castaic Lake Water Agency had a "hole" in it. The report analyzed the transfer of 41,000 acre-feet of water from Kern County Water Agency and Wheeler Ridge Maricopa Water Storage District to Castaic, Calif., which supplies water to the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Second District Court of Appeal found the report adequate and upheld the lower court's decision to throw out the remaining challenges to the transfer.

The conservation groups failed to sue before the trial court's ruling, the appellate panel noted. And "even if cognizable, the challenge fails," Justice Nora Manella wrote. The report described three water delivery scenarios in sufficient detail, with accompanying analysis, the appeals court ruled.

"Although we agree with the trial court that the 2004 environmental impact report's discussion could have been clearer, '[a]bsolute perfection,' is not required of an environmental impact report," the ruling states.

The groups said the report was invalid because the California Department of Water Resources should review the project as lead agency, not Castaic, because the transfer was part of a project that the department was already reviewing.

But the panel disagreed, saying Castaic was the logical choice for lead agency because it "alone had the responsibility to determine the water needs of its service area and to obtain the necessary water for those needs." Castaic was the project's "prime mover," negotiating with Wheeler Ridge for the transfer contract and obtaining private investors, the court said.

The Department of Water Resources may have approved the transfer and supplied the water, but "Castaic is better positioned than the Department of Water Resources to assess the environmental impact of the transfer," the ruling states.

The appeals court partially reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss.

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