Feb. 26, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
One of the directors of the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency (OBGMA) sees a lawsuit in that group’s future and wants to be prepared.
The agency is tasked with managing water resources in the Ojai Basin.
Jerry Conrow, who represents the Ojai Water Conservation District on the OBGMA board, said the proposed buyout of Golden State Water Company by the Casitas Municipal Water District has started the lawsuit ball rolling.
“I understand enough about the law to know that Golden State Water will defend itself by seeking adjudication,” Conrow explained. “This is going to be a litigation issue. Once you start the ball rolling, it will involve the rest of the users.”
He has asked that when the board meets Thursday it consider hiring an attorney to help prepare for the possible adjudication of those water rights within the Ojai Basin.
“This is a major issue that has been ignored by everyone and I don’t intend to sit idly by and do nothing,” Conrow explained. “Casitas itself has no skin in the game. It is acting for Ojai F.L.O.W. to take away the interests of Golden State.”
Although GSWC officials have stressed that its Ojai service area is not for sale, they contend that CMWD would have to pay a significant amount for its water rights in addition to its land, wells, pipes and other equipment during eminent domain proceedings.
When asked if it has undertaken, or intends to undertake, any steps to begin the adjudication process, Denise L. Kruger, GSWC’s senior vice president of regulated utilities, said, “Golden State Water Company is working with local stakeholders consistent with our role as a founder and member of the board of directors for the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency.”
Because the Ojai Basin’s water rights have never been determined through the adjudication process, it would be up to the State Water Resources Control Board and a superior court judge to determine if GSWC has water rights. Current Ojai Basin well owners would have to participate in the process in order to be granted rights to continue to pump water in the future.
Ojai F.L.O.W. officials have argued that because they are merely a franchisee of the city of Ojai, GSWC does not have water rights and even if they did, those rights would be worthless without the franchise agreement that allows them to operate their system in the city’s rights-of-way.
“To me,” explained Ojai F.L.O.W. member and attorney Ryan Blatz, “this just sounds like a way to drive up the price. I just don’t know where the legal basis is for Golden State to claim they have water rights.”
“This condemnation will have a great impact on the basin and it is obvious to me that the city of Ojai and Ojai F.L.O.W. aren’t concerned with the others who use this basin. They want to pay less for water, but we all want to pay less,” Conrow noted.
The OBGMA board will meet Thursday at 5 p.m. at 428 Bryant Circle. This meeting is open to the public.
Ojai F.L.O.W. will also host a ratepayer workshop March 7 at 6 p.m. at the Ojai Valley Inn. Blatz said current GSWC ratepayers interested in learning more about the buyout and what consequences it might have for them are welcome to attend.
The CMWD board will hold a public hearing March 13 at 7 p.m. at Matilija Auditorium where it is expected to vote on whether to hold the bond election that would finance the proposed buyout.