Monday, September 25, 2023
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Two Central Coast Water Organizations Fight Over New Restrictions

The Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District is attempting to tie the hands of the Central Coast Water Authority by restricting what they can do with their own water, allege the plaintiffs.

(CN) --- The Central Coast Water Authority, along with a number of its customers --- namely eight nearby California cities and water districts --- filed a lawsuit Friday claiming the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District overstepped its authority by passing a new resolution that imposes an undue burden on their water rights.

The lawsuit, filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, accuses the district of meddling in its affairs by improperly imposing restrictions on its right to transfer and exchange water with other entities. These restrictions include a prohibition on “unbalanced” exchanges, sales price approval and requirements to develop additional water supplies as a condition of transferring water out of the county.

“The terms and conditions of Resolution No. 21-73 are nonsensical, infeasible, and inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the Water Management Amendment,” the plaintiffs claim in their lawsuit.

The Central Coast Water Authority is responsible for delivering water to more than 85% of Santa Barbara County residents, 380,000 customers in all, pursuant to its contract. Of the total amount of water delivered to the county yearly, 47% comes from the State Water Project --- a vast network of canals and other water conveyance infrastructure that moves water around the state.

Once all that water gets to Santa Barbara County, it’s moved through local facilities that treat, convey and deliver the water --- facilities that were paid for by the water authority, and for which they say Santa Barbara’s water conservation district has no right to interfere with. The district doesn’t supply any water of its own, according to the plaintiffs, they’re merely responsible for raising taxes to foot the bill in case the water authority doesn’t pay up.

The water authority says that has never happened in the 30 years they’ve been operating under the current agreement, which was inked back in 1991 when the water authority was created. They also say the responsibility is moot because an amendment passed in 2014 gave them the right to levy taxes directly were the need to arise.

Since the agreement was signed, the water authority claims to have spent more than a billion dollars in construction and operational costs to receive all that state water. They say those investments were made in reliance on the agreement which they now believe the district is violating through its recent resolution.

“Now, after 30 years, the District, by and through its adoption of Resolution No. 21-73 on April 20, 2021, has imposed unlawful and burdensome conditions and limitations on CCWA’s administration of the State Water Contract,” allege the plaintiffs in the complaint.

According to the agreement, the water district is tasked with executing certain documents, meant to be rubber stamped as a mere formality, to which they have willingly obliged until recently. All was well, claims the water authority, until the district passed resolution number 21-73 in April, placing a host of new conditions and limitations on what the water authority is allowed to do.

As a result, they say their administrative costs have increased, the water supply has been frustrated, they’ve lost sales of surplus water supplies and their customers’ bills have risen unnecessarily.

“The District has no authority — pursuant to its enabling legislation or any other law — to impose conditions and limitations on CCWA’s exercise of its rights to the State Water Contract or the CCWA Participants’ use of their SWP water supply,” states the complaint. “As a special act district, the District has no inherent police power, but only those powers conferred to it by its enabling legislation. In fact, the District is expressly prohibited from interfering in CCWA’s right and authority to deliver SWP water to the CCWA Members and from interfering in each CCWA Member’s right and authority to manage its water supply resources.”

Representatives from the Central Coast Water Authority and the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District could not be reached for comment by press time.

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Categories / Environment, Government

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