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Central Coast Water Authority files suit against County of Santa Barbara

Water Education Foundation
California Aqueduct supplies water to millions throughout the state

The Central Coast Water Authority has filed a lawsuit in Santa Barbara Superior Court against the County of Santa Barbara over how the State Water Project will be managed going forward.

The State Water Project, built and operated by the California Department of Water Resources, allows local agencies to buy and sell water as needed.

Ray Stokes, executive director of the Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) which includes eight member cities and water districts throughout Santa Barbara County, said an April resolution by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors spurred the lawsuit.

“The County is essentially usurping the authority of the 44 board members and council members that have been elected by their constituents to ensure that they have sufficient water supplies to meet their needs,” Stokes said.

Stokes said Santa Barbara is the only county he’s aware of that added more restrictions to the general Water Management Amendment before approving it.

“Most notably, the resolution that the County adopted contains some prohibitions on our ability to sell water when it’s deemed to be in excess of our needs,” Stokes said.

The purpose of the Water Management Amendment was to update the system and provide better tools for transferring state water, but Stokes said the added resolution, requiring Board approval for water sales outside the county, infringes on the rights of CCWA members to manage their water supplies.

“They imposed some significant restrictions on our ability to fully utilize all the aspects of the Water Management Amendment,” he said.

In an email to KCBX, legal counsel for the County said they believe the actions were lawful and in the long-term interest of all Santa Barbara County residents.

While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, CCWA must abide by the Board’s decision.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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