Water Research at Cojo-Jalama

Ranch Owners Apply for Dozens of Well Permits

The owners of Cojo-Jalama Ranch, the massive and historic hunk of land near Point Conception formerly known as Bixby Ranch, applied for permits late last month, looking to, among other things, legalize several dozen water wells on their property. In two separate applications for coastal development permits from the County of Santa Barbara, the folks from Coastal Management Resources (the local face of Baupost, the East Coast–based hedge fund that bought the land in 2007 for $136 million) are looking to retroactively permit 37 wells and get approval for a well-testing program designed to evaluate the reliability and health of the property’s underwater aquifers.

According to county planner Alex Tuttle, the applications look to make legitimate a group of seven wells, drilled by former property owners between 1971 and 2005, as well as a second group of wells (comprising 26 exploratory and four monitoring wells), also allegedly drilled by former owners after 2005. “[The wells] were put in under the assumption that they didn’t need permits for them,” explained Tuttle this week. As for the motivation behind permitting them now, said Tuttle, the application describes the proposed water research as being a predecessor to potential irrigated agriculture activities on some 1,700 acres of the 25,000-plus acre property. Adding that applications of this type are anything but common in the county, Tuttle stressed that “these are just permits for wells. They are not homes or anything of that nature.”

As such, the permits being sought will require a hearing and approval from a county zoning administrator pending an as-yet-undetermined amount of environmental review. Further, the permits, if granted, could be subject to appeal all the way to the California Coastal Commission.

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