Bradbury Dam

Bradbury Dam holds back the Santa Ynez River to create Cachuma Lake, where the Central Coast Water Authority stores some of its state water before releasing it to its member cities and water districts.

Central Coast Water Authority is suing Santa Barbara County over its alleged interference in how state water is managed by the authority’s eight water-purveying members.

The suit was filed after the County Board of Supervisors imposed new conditions on the sale and exchange of state water that the Water Authority says will prevent its member cities and water districts from taking advantage of new contract amendments offered by the state, which owns and operates the State Water Project.

At its April 20 meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved the state’s Amendment 21 but imposed additional conditions requiring purchases of state water outside the county be approved by the Flood Control District director.

The conditions also require any sales of local state water be prioritized to in-county purveyors first and, if there are no takers, that any sales or exchanges of state water outside the county must meet certain criteria and be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“The county incorrectly believes that it is better suited to take water management decisions out of the hands of the 44 elected officials who govern these eight cities and water districts and who act on behalf of their ratepayers,” the Water Authority said in a press release.

The Water Authority operates and finances the part of the State Water Project located within the county, and its governing board includes representatives of its eight members.

Those are the cities of Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Buellton and Santa Barbara and the water districts of Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Ynez, which via contract provides a portion of its state water allocation to Solvang.

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Water Authority officials said its members have made decisions regarding state water for decades because they contract for the water and pay 100% of the costs, while the county doesn’t deliver state water and has no financial responsibility for the system that delivers it.

“The various water agencies in the county have taken on the financial responsibility of bringing water into the county from the State Water Project,” said Floyd Wicks, director of the Montecito Water District.

“Originally, the county was financially committed to paying the high fixed cost of the Coastal Branch Aqueduct; however, it abrogated its responsibility to the Central Coast Water Authority and its members nearly three decades ago.”

Wicks said taxpayers within the various water agency boundaries are paying for the aqueduct and elected local representatives to manage those assets to provide water at the lowest possible cost.

For the county to impose restrictions on maximizing the return on those assets, without having an ownership interest, doesn’t serve the citizens’ interests, he said.

Water Authority officials said water could be wasted as surplus supplies that could have been transferred won’t be, water in groundwater storage banks that could have been transferred won’t be, and carryover water in State Water Project reservoirs that could have been transferred won’t be.

In addition, the Water Authority said, the conditions will result in residents inside its member cities and water districts paying higher prices for water service.