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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 20th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 21

Santa Barbara County Supervisors declare drought emergency as county contends with Central Coast Water Authority lawsuit

By Malea Martin

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors declared a local drought emergency at a July 13 meeting. The proclamation comes on the heels of Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) filing a lawsuit against the county last month after the board put limits on the agency’s ability to sell excess water outside of the county. While board members feel this resolution was necessary to conserve the county’s meager water supply, CCWA believes it makes it harder for the agency to do its job.

CCWA is a public entity that maintains water resources in parts of Northern Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, and the South Coast. It’s responsible for delivering water from the State Water Project to project participants, which includes the cities of Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Buellton, and Solvang. 

CCWA and other state contractors negotiated some amendments to their contract with the California Department of Water Resources, “which basically frees up the ability of the 29 state contractors to buy and sell water more freely amongst themselves,” Executive Director Ray Stokes explained. 

But as the contract holder, the county also had to approve those amendments before they could go into effect. 

“[The Board of Supervisors] adopted a resolution that greatly prohibits our ability to sell water out of the county,” Stokes said. “CCWA, along with each of our eight public member agencies, have initiated litigation against the county challenging their application of this resolution.”

The board’s April 2021 decisions do allow CCWA to import State Water Project water from other entities more freely. But “the resolution also protects regional supplies by requiring any [State Water Project] water sale be first offered to CCWA member agencies,” a county staff letter to the board explains.

Supervisors said during the April 20 meeting that the limitation is necessary to conserve water within the county in a time of severe drought. 

“We, as the contract holder, are a stopgap to prevent shortsighted financial decisions that could make us more at risk as we go into the next drought,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said at the April 20 meeting. “And also to ensure that there’s more of an incentive for intra-county [water] transfers.”

From CCWA’s perspective, the board’s resolution creates more red tape and inefficiencies. 

“Obviously the drought is very concerning, and I’m very concerned about next year,” Stokes told the Sun. “We need to have all the tools in our toolbox to be able to really manage our water supplies. And that includes sales of state water when it’s in excess of the needs of our member agencies. To cut that off is ignoring good water management.”

Acting Public Works Director for the city of Santa Barbara Joshua Haggmark voiced similar concerns during the April 20 board meeting. Santa Barbara is one of CCWA’s eight local members.

“The additional requirements ignore the realities of the water markets, which you know are weather-dependent and thus dynamic, at times requiring CCWA and its members to move quickly to avoid the loss of water,” Haggmark said. “The proposed conditions interfere with our ability to manage our water supply planning.”

Santa Barbara County Water Agency Manager Matt Young said county counsel isn’t commenting on the lawsuit at this time. But he did say that the last 10 years represent the driest decade for Santa Barbara County in recorded history.

“It doesn’t create any specific policy changes, but it allows the county to take action to respond to drought conditions,” Young said of the board’s recent drought emergency proclamation. “Local purveyors, water districts, all have their own individual set of drought stages, with each stage requiring different levels of conservation. Now that the county has made that proclamation they can move into different stages of drought.” 










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