Lawsuit Against County Aimed at Protecting Santa Barbara’s Water Supplies

Source: City of Santa Barbara

The Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) and its Member Agencies, including the City, filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (County) in an important step toward protecting Member Agencies’ ability to manage their water supply. Other Member Agencies include the Cities of Buellton, Guadalupe, and Santa Maria, Carpinteria Valley Water District, Goleta Water District, Montecito Water District and Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 (where the City of Solvang is located).

Water supply from the State Water Project was extremely important to the City during the most recent drought. As surface water supplies became unavailable due to dry conditions, the City relied on groundwater, desalination, significant conservation from its customers, and State Water to meet the City’s water needs. In addition, the City entered into exchange agreements with other water agencies for supplemental State Water, which significantly augmented the City’s available water supplies. During the height of the drought, State Water and supplemental purchases made up over 40% of the City’s total annual water supply.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, acting in its capacity as the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, adopted Resolution No. 21-73 relating to the “Water Management Amendment” to the State Water Project Contract on April 20, 2021. The Water Management Amendment gives State Water Contractors throughout the state new and improved tools to help them make better use of limited water resources. The Water Management Amendment includes numerous checks and balances to ensure that the State Water Contractors, including CCWA and the retail water agencies they serve, make informed and transparent decisions about their water supply. These new tools are essential to responding to changing environmental and climatic conditions. Despite the clear benefits of the Water Management Amendment, the County’s Resolution No. 21-73 imposes burdensome conditions on CCWA and the CCWA Member Agencies that frustrate Member Agencies’ water management efforts. These conditions will result in increased administrative costs, lost sales of surplus water supplies, higher costs to manage water supplies, and increased costs of water service for customers and ratepayers.

The conditions imposed by the County on the Water Management Amendment will severely limit the City’s ability to use State Water to respond to future droughts. In addition, in wet years, the City’s share of State Water is an asset that can potentially be used in groundwater banking programs or long term leases to reduce the City’s overall water costs and/or prepare for the next drought. The conditions imposed by the County will also limit the City’s ability to benefit from this asset.

While the County is the holder of the State Water Project Contract with the California Department of Water Resources, since 1991 the County has had no responsibility for the contract. It does not operate any facilities that treat and convey State Water, it does not deliver any water, and it does not serve any water customers. It also doesn’t have any financial responsibility for the State Water Project Contract. Since 1991, CCWA Member Agencies have been 100% financially responsible for the State Water Project and the facilities that deliver the water to Santa Barbara County. To date, the CCWA Member Agencies and their rate paying customers have invested more than $1 billion in State Water.

CCWA and the Member Agencies made significant effort to avoid this legal conflict. Over the course of six months, CCWA made numerous efforts to work with County staff, submitted numerous comment letters to the County, and appeared at all three public meetings on this matter—all expressing the benefits of the Water Management Amendment, the importance of the Water Management Amendment to all CCWA participants, and urging the County to execute the Water Management Amendment without conditions. For more information on the lawsuit, please visit CCWA’s website:

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