A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that a water agency in Santa Clarita may continue to purchase large amounts of imported Kern County water, which will be used by current and future residential developments in the fast-growing suburb.
In a lawsuit, the environmental group Friends of the Santa Clara River challenged the Castaic Lake Water Agency's environmental report supporting its purchase of up to 41,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Kern County Water Agency.
An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, enough water to supply two average families for a year.
The environmentalists believe the Santa Clarita Valley relies too heavily on imported water and is facing overdevelopment. They say that combination could be dangerous if a drought decreases the statewide water supply.
Of the 180,000 acre-feet of water available to the water agency each year, about half is imported from other parts of the state, including Kern County.
Judge David P. Yaffe ruled that the water agency may continue to import the Kern County water, though he described the agency's environmental report as inadequate. The agency must prepare a new report, he ruled.
Lynne Plambeck, a board member of Friends of the Santa Clara River, considered the decision a defeat.
The ruling could help developers gain government approval for projects such as the proposed 21,600-home Newhall Ranch subdivision, said Plambeck.
"We as a society have made some really bad environmental decisions, because first we built the houses and then we've tried to find the water--and that is what the Friends of the Santa Clara River was trying to avoid in this case," Plambeck said. "It's going to hurt the existing users when all the new users come on line and there aren't adequate water supplies."
Mary Lou Cotton, a water agency spokeswoman, said officials might have imposed strict water conservation measures if the Kern County purchase had been halted.
In his ruling Tuesday, Yaffe said Friends of the Santa Clara River could ask him to prohibit the water purchases in the future if it could prove the water was being used "for purposes [the environmental group] considers improper."