Rumors sometimes lead to news stories and sometimes not. In the case of Slippery Rock Ranch — TV mogul Dick Wolf’s property in the Goleta foothills — the gossip was that Montecito residents were filling their swimming pools with water from the ranch’s aquifers. While a publicist with the ranch stated last week that Slippery Rock was not selling water or filling Montecito swimming pools, the Goleta Water District confirmed that they quietly settled a long-simmering water dispute with the Law & Order creator in the sum of $10 million.
In Santa Barbara Superior Court, Slippery Rock Ranch and the Goleta Water District had disputed since 2015 over possession of the rainwater sluicing off and infiltrating down under the ranch. The Water District pointed out that the ranch — 740 acres above the border of Los Padres National Forest — was in a watershed that contributed to the district’s Goleta Groundwater Basin. The ranch countered that its borders were entirely outside the district’s boundaries and had historically sold its water, albeit to a neighboring ranch. The court documents do not mention the amount of water that might be in dispute.
At seven years old, the lawsuit was outliving its first courtroom, that of Judge James Herman, who is retiring this year, with complicated questions of water rights and a judgment from 40 years ago as part of the fact picture and evolving cross-complaints. The parties settled in March in a writing that included $10 million to Goleta Water District to be paid by Slippery Rock Ranch. Another covenant stated the ranch intended to “establish a program to physically export water” and that the water district would not oppose the ranch’s efforts to get environmental and regulatory approval. According to the ranch website, restoring the ranch post-Gap Fire and environmental stewardship were its main pursuits, publicist Cory Black pointed out, not water sales.
Meanwhile in Montecito, its water district has been trying to cajole its customers to taper their landscape watering by 20 percent since June — “If you currently water for 20 minutes, cut that back to 16 minutes,” General Manager Nick Turner is quoted in one announcement. More to the point, the water district prohibited its customers from filling their swimming pools, spas, and hot tubs as of June — and required a pool cover to limit evaporation.