Board of Supervisors hearing
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors directed staff Tuesday to analyze assigning the State Water contract to the Central Coast Water Authority. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to analyze assigning the State Water Project contract to the Central Coast Water Authority, although several board members voiced concerns about the potential move.

The CCWA wants complete control of the contract, which is currently assigned to the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

CCWA was created in 1991 to build, manage and operate State Water Project infrastructure for Santa Barbara County; it coordinates treating and distributing the deliveries of allocated water and supplemental water purchased by member agencies during the drought.

Representatives from its voting members make up the board: the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Buellton; the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1; and the Goleta, Montecito and Carpinteria Valley water districts.

While CCWA and member agencies are financially responsible for the contract, they want to have decision-making authority for the contract as well, according to CCWA Executive Director Ray Stokes. He said that assigning the contract to the CCWA would not change the way water is delivered nor the way deliveries are paid for (by ratepayers, through their water purveyors).

All of the CCWA member agencies have approved assigning the contract to CCWA, but it needs approval from the Board of Supervisors to happen. 

The supervisors said Tuesday that they were open to further discussing the issue and directed staff to report back at a later point.

Three of the five supervisors represent districts that include South Coast communities, and they are the ones who expressed some concern with CCWA’s weighted voting structure of the board, which is determined by the amounts of State Water each agency pays for.

Santa Maria is the largest customer and has a 43 percent voting weight, which is lower than it would be if it was based purely on the contract water amounts, according to Stokes.

A chart shows the CCWA Board of Directors voting percentages

A chart shows the CCWA Board of Directors voting percentages. (CCWA photo)

“The city of Santa Maria voluntarily voted to suppress its voting percentage so it didn’t have a majority of the vote,” Stokes said.

The CCWA 2018-19 budget shows that the requested allocations for voting Santa Barbara County agencies are 12,041 acre-feet for Santa Maria, 4,601 acre-feet for Goleta, 3,125 acre-feet for Santa Barbara, 3,094 acre-feet for Montecito, 1,977 acre-feet for Carpinteria, 1,105 acre-feet for Santa Ynez and Solvang (ID1), 552 acre-feet for Buellton and 527 acre-feet for Guadalupe.

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said he voted no on the issue as a Santa Barbara City Council member, but is “sitting here in a different place and seeing this issue a little differently.”

First District Supervisor Das Williams said he is “leery” of the weighted voting structure of CCWA’s board and the possibility of a few agencies determining the direction of the State Water contract for the entire county.

Williams also commented that the County Counsel’s Office should weigh in on the impact to the county’s liability from assigning the contract to the CCWA. 

Board chairman and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino seconded the request to ask county staff to analyze liability impacts, and said that State Water “kind of saved everybody” during the drought.

Responding to concerns about the CCWA voting structure, he noted that it is not based on population but on State Water Project participation. 

“Santa Maria pays a hell of a lot more money than everyone else pays for it,” he said.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she has heard from people on all sides of the issue. 

“I think in part how you position yourself on this issue is on where you sit,” she said.

Board of Supervisors hearing

CCWA Executive Director Ray Stokes gives a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about the State Water contract. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Hartmann alleged that the Board of Supervisors is more visible and transparent than special districts, including water districts.

“It’s very technical and difficult and takes really dedicated people to take on those jobs, but transparent I wouldn’t call it,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting. “So I have some real concerns about assigning this because I believe everyone on the board has to think about the county as a whole.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam briefly said he wants county counsel to confirm that the county would be released from financial obligations if the contract is assigned to the CCWA.

Representatives from the Montecito Water District, the cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, and ID1 spoke during public comment and asked the supervisors to consider assigning the contract to the CCWA and to keep discussing the issue. 

Tobe Plough of the Montecito water board said State Water has been a supply that the community lived on, although deliveries in drought are not always dependable.

“We’ve got a collegial relationship with the rest of the districts and CCWA. In fact, Santa Maria during times of drought have supplied us in Montecito (with state water),” he said. “My feeling is the best government is the closest to the people it serves … The county doesn’t have any water customers and we do.”

The Santa Barbara City Council supports the plan to assign the contract to the CCWA, which puts decision-making with the people responsible for delivering water, according to city Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark.

Bill Rosen of the Goleta Water District board said he doesn’t support assigning the contract to the CCWA although his colleagues voted to approve the move.

“Water policy and who controls it is a big deal for this county,” he said.

He said he also doesn’t approve of CCWA’s weighted voting system, and added that South Coast agencies have lower voting power because of it.

Carolee Krieger said during public comment that she doesn’t support assigning the contract to the CCWA because the agency may vote to extend the contract, and local agencies will end up contributing funding to the expensive Twin Tunnels and other projects considered by the Department of Water Resources.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Map of State Water Project infrastructure

A State Water Project map shows where the infrastructure and participating agencies are located in Santa Barbara County. (CCWA photo)

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at