Showdown at Slippery Rock

Goleta Water District to Sue Ranch Owners to Stop Montecito Water Sales

In an unprecedented move, the Goleta Water District served notice last week it intends to sue owners of the Slippery Rock Ranch, a 725-acre avocado operation located in the Goleta foothills, to stop the ranch owners from selling their water to the Montecito Water District. The declaration of legal war came just two days after a delegate from the water-strapped Montecito District addressed the Goleta Water board, beseeching its boardmembers to work cooperatively with the agency to explore the Slippery Rock deal. Goleta Water District General Manager John McInnes had put the Montecito district on notice just six weeks prior that he would engage in no such discussions and that his agency had retained the services of water law specialists.

McInnes has contended the Slippery Rock water basin is connected to Goleta’s storage basin, meaning any draw on Slippery Rock would come at Goleta’s expense. Slippery Rock’s owners contend they have hydrologic reports showing the opposite is true. The Montecito district and Slippery Rock owners had argued a test run would settle the matter definitively, while generating 500 to 1,000 acre-feet of water Montecito desperately needs now. Montecito had expressed a willingness to spend up to $500,000 to make this happen. Since no action has been taken, Slippery Rock agent Mark Lloyd and Montecito Water’s Tom Mosby expressed bewilderment what kind of lawsuit Goleta could possibly file.

Slippery Rock’s owners claim the water basin under their property can hold almost as much water as Lake Cachuma and that this supply could be used as a crucial drought buffer in times of need. Other South Coast water officials had expressed interest in exploring the Slippery Rock option should the drought continue, but Goleta’s stance will likely dampen that curiosity. McInnes explained via email he was looking out for the interest of his 87,000 customers. Tom Mosby expressed disappointment with Goleta’s refusal to discuss the matter. “Have I ever seen the door closed and locked in this manner before?” he asked. “The answer is no.”

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