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Well Moratorium Dead on Arrival

Proposal Pushed by Montecito Water District Gets No Traction


A proposed moratorium on new well-drilling permits, pushed by the Montecito Water District, was dead on arrival by the time the county supervisors began jawboning it Tuesday. The proposal was done in by County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni’s fear that such an action would engender a spate of “takings” lawsuits by affected property owners. Nor did the supervisors support a plan to require water meters on new wells or a proposition that the dispensation of some well permits be subject to discretionary approval. Instead, the board embraced a plan to solicit more detailed information on well-permit applications.

Wells and water meters elicit a comparable degree of passion as gun control and abortion rights, but Tuesday’s debate was decidedly one-sided as a parade of speakers denounced the proposal and lambasted the Montecito district for creating its own water-supply problems. Montecito hatched the moratorium idea in response to an explosion in permit applications for new wells overlying Montecito’s tapped-out groundwater basin. With 550 well permits issued in Montecito since the 1970s, water district officials contend they’re flying blind when attempting to manage a limited vital resource. In the past year, 107 of the county’s 278 well-permit applications came from Montecito. In the last year, three dozen wells in Montecito have failed.

Currently, well permits are issued by the county Department of Environmental Health Services with no environmental analysis or thought to groundwater management. Attorney Susan Petrovich scorched the plan, pointing out that the district has since purchased so much water that it needs its customers to increase consumption to break even financially. Likewise, she disputed Montecito’s claims of well failure. Ag and farming interests spoke out against metering and discretionary permits. The only reason to make a permit discretionary, argued Andy Caldwell of COLAB, is so that the county can say no at some point.

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