Fight Over SoCal Dams & Pipelines

VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – A California conservation district sued Oxnard and a water district, claiming they are using its dams and pipelines in violation of a “long term water management strategy” in the drought-ridden state.
     United Water Conservation District sued Pleasant Valley County Water District and Oxnard on Monday in Ventura Superior Court.
     Oxnard, pop. 202,000, is just south of the city of Ventura.
     United’s boundaries span 214,000 acres in central and southern Ventura County, along the lower Santa Clara River Valley and the Oxnard Coastal Plain. Eight interconnected groundwater basins lie wholly or partially within the area.
     Pleasant Valley spans 12,000 acres in the Oxnard Plain, wholly within United’s boundaries.
     The United Water Conservation District was formed in 1950 to manage and conserve surface water and groundwater “for the benefit of municipal and industrial users and agricultural users, including Pleasant Valley … for the public health, welfare and safety of the people of the State of California,” it says in its complaint.
     It owns and operates the Santa Felicia Dam, Lake Piru, the Freeman Diversion Dam and its Saticoy well field, several pipelines, and reservoirs connected to the Pleasant Valley pipeline, under a 1995 water delivery contract with the Pleasant Valley district.
     “Significant groundwater overdraft” for decades has caused seawater intrusion in the southern and eastern Oxnard basin, contaminating drinking water, the conservation district says.
     Pleasant Valley serves agricultural customers exclusively, via raw surface water stored in Lake Piru, released to the Santa Clara River, diverted by United through the Freeman Dam and transmitted through the Pleasant Valley pipeline to United’s terminal reservoirs.
     United in 1995 agreed to furnish and deliver 12 percent of the surface water diverted at Freeman to Pleasant Valley, as a supplemental water supply for Pleasant Valley’s agricultural customers. In 1997, United acquired 15 acres next to its Pleasant Valley reservoir to build a second, 120-acre reservoir.
     Water stored in the reservoirs is released by Pleasant Valley and distributed to customers for irrigation through Pleasant Valley’s pipelines.
     “Pleasant Valley has little or no storage capability within its own system and relies upon United’s reservoirs as a key means of accomplishing the water conservation purposes supported by both Pleasant Valley and United through the 1995 contract,” the conservation district says.
     In 2002, United’s reservoirs began to receive Conejo Creek surface water pursuant to Pleasant Valley’s agreement with the Camrosa Water District.
     In the past three years, the amount of surface water available for diversion from the Freeman Dam and delivery to Pleasant Valley has substantially decreased, in large part due to drought, and from operational changes to the flow regime at Freeman.
     Despite decreased deliveries by United through the Pleasant Valley pipeline, Pleasant Valley has continued supplying water to its customers through the sources, United says.
     “Pleasant Valley representatives on multiple occasions have asked United representatives whether United will sell its reservoirs to Pleasant Valley,” the lawsuit states.
     Ignoring United’s multiple requests to meet and discuss amendments the 1995 contract, Pleasant Valley and Oxnard have tried to persuade the California Regional Water Quality Control Board – Los Angeles Region to authorize a Groundwater Recovery Enhancement and Treatment Program, aka GREAT, recycling water from the city’s advanced water purification facility through the Calleguas municipal water district regional salinity management pipeline to the Pleasant Valley area, the conservation district says.
     In June, United told the regional board that the parties had not agreed to use United’s reservoirs to store recycled water for nonpotable reuse, and that Pleasant Valley could not use United’s reservoirs without United’s consent.
     United claims that Pleasant Valley did not respond to a letter from counsel and continues to ignore United’s multiple communications.
     United claims that Pleasant Valley aims to control all deliveries of water into United’s reservoirs; to eliminate or minimize its receipt of surface water from the Freeman Diversion through the Pleasant Valley pipeline; and receive only competing sources of water into the reservoirs, not provided by United, for distribution to its landowners and agricultural customers.
     This could further drain the aquifers under the Oxnard Plain and Pleasant Valley, and violate water conservation purposes recognized in the 1995 contract, United says.
     The parties did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
     United Water seeks an injunction and declaration that the defendants may not place or store water in its reservoirs and facilities without consent.
     It is represented by Anthony Trembley with Musick, Peeler & Garret, of Westlake Village.

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