CCWA alleges Board of Supervisors ‘infringed on CCWA rights’
The Central Coast Water Authority is suing Santa Barbara County over the management of the State Water Project.
The organization filed the lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court and called the suit “significant and unprecedented” in its announcement Monday.
The Water Authority alleged in a news release that the County Board of Supervisors inserted itself into decisions about how to manage State Water supplies.
The CCWA manages, operates and finances the portion of the State Water Project in the county, and the organization contracts for the supply and pays 100% of the costs.
The members on the CCWA’s governing board include the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Buellton and Guadalupe, along with the water districts including Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Ynez (which contracts a portion of its State Water Project supply to Solvang).
“CCWA and its member cities and water districts have the authority and responsibility to provide a reliable and adequate supply of clean and safe water to their customers,” the news release stated. “For decades, CCWA’s members have made every significant decision regarding State Water … The lawsuit was necessary because the County Board of Supervisors has now infringed on the rights CCWA and its members have as independent agencies …”
The county does not deliver state water and has no financial responsibility for it, according to the CCWA, which expressed concern that the county will therefore deprive the cities and water districts of their ability to manage supplies without the county’s interference.
The specific instance being referenced by the Water Authority is that the county imposed “significant and unreasonable conditions on sales and exchanges of State Water,” which deprives the cities and water districts of new contract amendments that would improve flexibility and efficiency of buying and selling water across the State Water Project. The amendments are also reported to either offset the expense of State Water for its customers or help offset the cost of developing local supplies.
“Without the market-driven efficiency that the new policies allow, financing and development of local water conservation projects, such as desalination, potable reuse and recycled water may be impaired,” the press release said. “Water could be wasted as surplus supplies that could have been transferred won’t be, water in groundwater storage banks that could have been transferred won’t be, and carryover water in SWP reservoirs that could have been transferred won’t be.”
The CCWA said that considering the current drought conditions and climate change challenges, water transfers and financing “will be critical.”
“In the face of changing climate and water supply conditions locally and statewide, the Goleta Water District requires every tool in its water management portfolio to remain flexible and ensure a continued reliable source of water supply for the communities it serves,” Farfalla Borah, director of the Goleta Water District, said in a statement. “Water agencies in Santa Barbara County should be afforded the same rights and opportunities as all other agencies throughout the state.”
A waste of water and increased costs for cities, districts and ratepayers are the top concerns of the CCWA, and the organization said the supervisors’ conditions are “limiting” and “extraneous.”
Floyd Wicks, director of the Montecito Water District, said in a statement: “The various water agencies in the county have taken on the financial responsibility of bringing water into the county from the State Water Project. Originally, the county was financially committed to paying the high fixed cost of the Coastal Branch Aqueduct; however, it abrogated its responsibility to the Central Coast Water Authority and its members nearly three decades ago.
“The assets of the Coastal Branch Aqueduct are now being paid for by tax-paying citizens within the various water agency boundaries, not the county. These same citizens elected their local representatives to manage those assets in such a way as to produce the least cost water possible. For the county to impose restrictions on maximizing the return on those assets, without having an ownership interest in the same, does not serve the interests of those same citizens.”
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart did not respond to a News-Press request for comment by deadline.