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Newhall Ranch Developer Agrees to Buy More Water for 21,600 Homes

The supplies would come from a private source in Kern County, spokeswoman says.

October 18, 2002|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to allay fears about insufficient water supplies, the developer of the massive Newhall Ranch subdivision has agreed to buy additional water for the 21,600-home development from a private source in Kern County, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The agreement would allow Newhall Land & Farming Co. to purchase 1,600 acre-feet of water per year for its development, said Marlee Lauffer, a Newhall spokeswoman. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, enough water to supply two average-size families for a year.

"We decided it was important to go out and purchase additional water to cover all contingencies," Lauffer said. The subdivision is expected to use 17,600 acre-feet of water per year.

A judge has temporarily blocked construction of the 70,000-resident subdivision until the developer can prove it has sufficient water supplies to support the project in multiple drought years.

The court ruling was prompted by lawsuits filed by opponents of the project.

The developer in January is scheduled to present the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors with a more complete environmental analysis of the project, including details on the project's water sources.

The developer, however, may still face some stumbling blocks.

The new water arrangement has yet to be completed, and Newhall Land has declined to name the source of the water, raising the ire of environmentalists who went to court to stall a similar arrangement that the developer struck with a local water wholesaler.

"This doesn't answer all of the questions about total water supply for the [project]," said John Buse, an attorney who represents the environmental group Friends of the Santa Clara River. "Newhall Ranch is a small city."

The environmental group filed a lawsuit in 1999 challenging an arrangement to transfer up to 41,000 acre-feet of water yearly from the Kern County Water Agency to the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which would supply a portion of the Newhall Ranch subdivision.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled the Castaic Lake agency's environmental impact report was inadequate and needed to be revised. The state Supreme Court earlier this year refused to interfere with the lower court ruling.

The Newhall Ranch development -- the largest residential project in Los Angeles County history -- was approved by Los Angeles County supervisors in 1998.

But the development has been stalled by lawsuits filed by Ventura County and a host of environmental groups, who maintain the developer has failed to prove it can acquire enough water for the development.

Water isn't the only problem plaguing the project.

Last month Newhall Land announced it had discovered on its property a population of Los Angeles sunflowers, which were thought to be extinct for more than six decades.

The endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower has also been found on the site, and the state Department of Fish and Game is conducting an investigation to determine whether the company had destroyed any of the plants.

The developer has also pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court to one count of altering a stream bed on its property.

A trial in that matter is set to begin Nov. 20.

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