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Newhall Ranch Loses Battle Over Water

Housing: High court upholds ruling requiring a supplier to submit a new EIR. Developer calls the setback 'negligible.'


The largest residential development in the history of Los Angeles County has hit another legal snag over water supply that could further delay construction.

The state Supreme Court refused to interfere with a lower court decision that set aside the transfer of 41,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Kern County Water Agency to the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which would supply a portion of water to Newhall Ranch, a proposed 21,600-home subdivision in the Santa Clarita Valley.

A Superior Court ruling found that the Castaic Lake Water Agency's environmental report was inadequate and needed to be revised, agency spokeswoman Mary Lou Cotton said.

Newhall Land & Farming Co. plans to use about 1,600 acre-feet from Castaic annually for its development that is expected to bring 70,000 new residents to the burgeoning Santa Clarita Valley. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, about enough water to supply two average families for a year.

"Only a small percentage of the water sources that we have projected rely on CLWA supplies," said Marlee Lauffer, a spokeswoman for Newhall Land. "In terms of the impact the court decision will have on Newhall Ranch, it's very negligible."

Lauffer has said that the developer has deals to buy and store enough water to meet nearly twice the expected demand.

Opponents of the development applauded the high court's decision Tuesday because they said it underscores that water availability and residential development must go hand in hand.

"We think this is great news," said Barbara Walpole, president of the citizens group Friends of the Santa Clara River. "This is important because we believe it is among the reasons why Los Angeles County is postponing a decision on Newhall Ranch--until water-rights issues are sorted out."

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area, has said that the county must ensure that there is sufficient water for the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley before any project is approved.

"From the supervisor's perspective, we shouldn't be sticking a shovel in the ground until we have a guaranteed water source out there," said Antonovich's land-use deputy, Conal McNamara.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to delay action on Newhall Ranch until its Aug. 27 meeting, McNamara said.

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