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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 15th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2

Cuyama water district formed, still needs county approval

By DAVID MINSKY

On March 13, the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) formally certified the formation of the Cuyama Basin Water District, drawing objections from several residents due to fears of water availability.

The commission first approved the district on Sept. 1, 2016, but required a special election, which was held on Feb. 28, 2017. The votes came back 58,057 in favor and 2,236 against the district.

The district itself is controversial among some Cuyama residents because they believe it’ll consume most of the water from the aquifer, which is shared by the town of roughly 1,100 people.

Prompted by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 that’s intended to protect the state’s groundwater, growers in the Cuyama Valley rushed to form a district before the state had a chance to impose its own regulations.

In August 2016, LAFCO Executive Director Paul Hood described the district as the largest he’s ever seen. It encompasses more than 83,000 acres split between Santa Barbara, Kern, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties—with most of it within Santa Barbara County. It includes some of the valley’s largest growers, such as Bolthouse Farms, which is a subsidiary of Campbell Soup Company.

The district’s petition was led by Bakersfield-based attorney Ernest Conant, who didn’t return phone calls to the Sun before deadline.

Some growers who turned out for the LAFCO meeting in August 2016 supported the district, including Patty Poire from Grimmway Farms.

“If the state has to intervene, it’s not going to be a nice plan,” she told LAFCO commissioners. “They at the state level are really contemplating that if we are not successful and meet their standards, they might have to be the bad guy.”

The election also drew controversy because votes weren’t based on people, but acres. In other words, it was one acre, one vote, which is how most water districts are created in California. Several people, including Cuyama Community Services District (CCSD) member John Coats, believed this disenfranchised residents.

New Cuyama is unincorporated and depends on a community services district to provide sewer and water services.

“The waiver of voting rights results in a disadvantage,” Coats said.

But the district doesn’t have final say over water maters in the Cuyama Valley. As required by SGMA, the district will be a part of a larger groundwater sustainability agency that includes representatives from the four aforementioned counties and the CCSD.

The district still faces the final hurdle of approval by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which is slated to hear the matter in April.