A state appellate court on Thursday threw out an environmental impact report that proposed importing Kern County water for future subdivisions in the Santa Clarita Valley, including the 21,000-home Newhall Ranch project.
Opponents of Newhall Ranch said the ruling is a setback for the project. But an attorney for the water-importing agency downplayed the order, saying the subdivision would use little of the water.
In its 20-page opinion, the 2nd Appellate District Court in Los Angeles rejected the report because it was based on another environmental report invalidated last year by a Northern California court. That report set guidelines for divvying up state water among farms and developers.
Thursday's ruling reversed a lower court judgment in a lawsuit brought against the Castaic Lake Water Agency by the Friends of the Santa Clara River, a leading opponent of Newhall Ranch. In the suit, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe found in favor of the water agency.
An attorney for the agency said it has two options: It can wait for the approval of the report for the water-sharing guidelines and rewrite the Santa Clarita document accordingly. Or it can draft a new report for water imports from Kern County.
Under the state water-sharing agreement, the Castaic agency plans to buy 41,000-acre feet per year from the Kern County Water Agency for development projects in and around Santa Clarita.
Of the 17,600-acre feet Newhall Ranch will use per year, only 1,600-acre feet will be imported water, according to a Los Angeles County analysis.
The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the Newhall Ranch EIR on Jan 22. A spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whose district includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said it was unclear whether Thursday's ruling would delay the vote.
Environmentalists contend the water agency cannot meet the demands of Newhall Ranch without tapping the Santa Clara River and underground sources in the Santa Clarita Valley.
"This ruling [is] going to upset every action that affects water and it will force a new environmental review," said Ron Bottorff, president of Friends of the Santa Clara River.
But Bob Clark, the attorney for the Castaic agency, said: "Newhall Ranch is not significantly dependent on the Castaic Lake Water Agency for its water supply because it has developed significant other water resources."