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Goleta Water District Pursuing Lawsuit Over Slippery Rock Groundwater Proposal

The Goleta Water District is taking legal action against the owners of Slippery Rock Ranch, who have proposed selling and banking water for water agencies in the region with the ranch’s large groundwater basin.

Last week, the district's board of directors unanimously voted in closed session to initiate litigation, General Manager John McInnes said.

He could not discuss details of the litigation.

The owners of the Slippery Rock Ranch believe they have a groundwater basin under the property that is as large as 200,000 acre-feet, which rivals the capacity of Lake Cachuma.

Mark Lloyd, representing the owners, has presented it as an opportunity for water supply and water banking storage for southern Santa Barbara County water agencies, including the Goleta Water District, the City of Santa Barbara, the Montecito Water District and the Carpinteria Valley Water District.

The Montecito Water District is particularly interested in pursuing the basin as a future long-term water supply, since it has very few groundwater supplies.

However, the Goleta Water District came out with concerns early in the process, saying there needs to be more study to determine whether the district’s groundwater basin and the ranch’s basin are connected.

Goleta’s firm position is that the groundwater basin is “not open for discussion” as a possible regional water supply opportunity, Montecito Water District staff said earlier this month.

Montecito General Manger Tom Mosby and directors Richard Shaikewitz and Douglas Morgan spoke during public comment at the recent Goleta board meeting, where directors voted to pursue litigation against the Slippery Rock Ranch owners.

“We implore you to work with us to find a solution to our common money and water problems,” Shaikewitz told the Goleta board.  

The proposed test program would pump out water from the so-called “Chalice Basin” for about six months and then increase pumping to find the full sustainable safe yield, which would determine how much water could be pumped out on a long-term basis.

Goleta district staff believe the ranch, in the Goleta foothills, needs to conduct more studies to determine the environmental impacts of pumping, and see if the basins are connected, according to a staff report from the Oct. 28 Water Management and Long Range Planning Committee meeting.

“While Slippery Rock consultants refute potential impacts, it is clear that the district must, in the interests of the adjudicated Goleta basin, maintain the sole discretionary authority to terminate any future pumping activities related to exportation of water,” the staff report says.

Montecito wants to pursue the test program, which would require a host of state and local approvals and review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

There were several letters exchanged between McInnes and Mosby late last year, in which McInnes made it clear that Goleta is “extremely concerned” about the Slippery Rock Ranch proposal.

“It is imperative that the relationship between the water source proposed for extraction and the adjudicated Goleta Groundwater Basin be determined before any water from the Slippery Rock Ranch is transported for use off site,” McInnes wrote.

There should be a full environmental impact report conducted before increased pumping and water removed for use outside the ranch, he wrote.

In response, Mosby wrote that Montecito would never advocate for water extraction that would have a significant adverse impact to the environment or Goleta’s adjudicated groundwater basin.

Montecito was hoping water agencies could work together to explore the possibility of a regional water supply opportunity, he added.

“The Slippery Rock Ranch may be one of those rare opportunities where a new local supply could be developed in tandem with the establishment of a local groundwater banking program to the benefit of the Goleta Water District and the other South Coast water agencies,” he wrote.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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