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Water Rights 101


Having been an admirer of Nick Welsh’s candid work covering water issues in the Santa Barbara area for a number of years, I found “Water Agencies Duel Over ‘Dead Pool’” to be oddly charitable. Particularly the framing of the “accidental surprise” by South Coast water agencies and the phrase: “the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District [used] highly arcane water-rights language dating back to 1973.”

As you recall, the State of California has slickly maneuvered such “arcane water-rights” like the 1922 Colorado River Compact to maintain supremacy over the Nile of the Southwest for nearly a century. So the actions of Santa Ynez to leverage its own “arcane water-rights” against neighboring South Coast water agencies seems less of a “surprise” and more like a page out of “Water Rights 101.” In reality, our water managers on the South Coast neglected to heed the call of some early warning signs that something was afoot and prepare for this calculable outcome.

One such warning sign is a withdrawal letter sent in late spring of this year by the Santa Ynez District to the Cachuma Operation Maintenance Board (COMB), alleging South Coast water agencies had a “disregard for the rule of law.” This, in addition to Santa Ynez being an agricultural area, with lake supplies dwindling, and there no longer being certain inter-agency disclosures, should have been enough to spur South Coast water agencies to avoid the surprise of having 3,000 acre-feet of water go missing.

So for us to avoid an outright ban on outdoor irrigation in our lovely oasis, South Coast water agencies will have to rely on other water supply sources. Sources like the soon-to-reopen Charles E. Meyer desalination plant, continued conservation, our finite yet temperamental groundwater, and perhaps even more supplemental water purchases.

We just shouldn’t be surprised when all our water rates go up, again.

Rodney Loehr is cofounder and a water resources specialist at AquaViable Solutions.

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