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California legislation could bring peace to L.A. water war

Assembly OKs bill that would give the Water Replenishment District authority to manage groundwater storage, ending a battle with the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

August 10, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times

The state Assembly approved legislation Thursday that would end a long-standing turf war between two Los Angeles County water districts.

For much of the last decade, the Lakewood-based Water Replenishment District has been fighting with the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District for control of groundwater aquifers that could be used to store thousands of acre feet of water each year. The battle, which The Times reported on earlier this year, has included extensive litigation, lobbying and aggressive PR tactics, all funded with taxpayer dollars.

State Sen. Alan Lowenthal's bill, SB 1386, would give the Replenishment District the primary authority to manage groundwater storage in the area. It passed on a 50-5 vote in the Assembly on Thursday. The Senate must now approve it once more before it goes to Gov. Jerry Brown.

"Enough is enough," Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said in a recent statement. "It's time we move forward as a region, and I believe SB 1386 provides us with the path to resolution."

The unused storage space is considered an extremely valuable resource because it could allow purveyors to store extra water in wet years and save it for dry ones, when imported water prices surge.

The Replenishment District has long argued that it should oversee a new storage system, which it says would lower costs for ratepayers and help conserve water. The agency is in charge of monitoring groundwater levels in the southern portion of the county, covering 43 cities from La Habra Heights to Manhattan Beach.

But Central Basin, a water wholesaler that serves Southeast Los Angeles County, blocked a recent effort to develop a new storage plan, arguing that the Replenishment District's policies unfairly benefit constituents in the South Bay.

On Thursday, state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) spoke out against Lowenthal's bill, saying legislators should not "be pulled into" a local dispute that can be resolved through the courts. Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) launched into a tirade against water districts in general.

"We ought to abolish all the water districts: They are useless; they have no function whatsoever," he said. "Now they are bringing us into the middle of this fight.... I think we should let it go."

Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) then rose in support of the bill, noting that Cedillo and Calderon have close ties to Central Basin. Cedillo's son, Gil Cedillo Jr., works for the agency, and Calderon's brother, Tom Calderon, has served as one of its top consultants.

"Be cautious of some of the people who are opposed," Mendoza said.

sam.allen@latimes.com

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