Overdraft phase of groundwater trial completed - Judge could issue ruling in one to three months

By Erin Carlyle / Adobe Free Press

Santa Maria, CA - 2/6/04 - A critical phase in the ongoing legal fight over rights to the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin finally wrapped up in a San Jose courtroom last week -- although there was no indication of which side came out ahead.

Lawyers completed closing arguments Thursday afternoon in a trial to determine if the valley's basin is or was in overdraft. The legal key for determining water rights, overdraft occurs when more water is pumped from the basin than is replaced by infiltration.

If lawyers convinced Santa Clara Superior Judge Jack Komar the basin has been overdrafted, then urban water users' rights will trump the traditionally superior rights of rural landowners and farmers.

Attorneys say they expect Komar to issue a preliminary decision in one to three months. The judge indicated he will allow attorneys to make comments on his tentative decision, then will issue his final decision, according to Eric Garner, one of the attorneys for the city of Santa Maria.

The water fight began six years ago when the Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District, representing rural landowners, sued Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Cal Cities Water Co., which provides water to Orcutt and portions of Nipomo.

The catalyst was Santa Maria's importation of state water. The district feared the city would bank an increasing amount of state water in the groundwater basin, eventually pushing out the pumping rights of rural landowners.

Although city officials say that idea is far-fetched, the lawsuit has expanded to include nearly 700 parties -- including Nipomo Community Services District, other South County water purveyors and land owners with private wells -- and about 100 attorneys.

Laywers believe no matter what the results of this phase are, more legal battles will follow.

Staff writer Erin Carlyle can be reached by calling 739-2218 or by e-mail at ecarlyle@pulitzer.net.



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