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Groundwater agency sues CMWD for water-use data

UVRGA PIC

 
 
Ojai’s water wars appeared to escalate last week when one local water entity sued another in Ventura County Superior Court.
The Upper Ventura River Groundwater Agency filed a lawsuit Aug. 13 against Casitas Municipal Water District over its refusal to provide confidential water-use data for some of its customers.
UVRGA officials say they need the data to determine the quantity of water extracted from the Upper Ventura River groundwater basin, so they can prepare a groundwater sustainability plan required by state law, said Bryan Bondy, executive director with the agency. The deadline to craft the groundwater sustainability plan is Jan. 31, 2022.
If the agency can’t provide local, stakeholder-driven management of the groundwater basin, the state will take over management of the basin, he said. “I would venture to guess that most people would rather have locals deciding how to manage the groundwater resources than the state.”
But CMWD denied a public records request from UVGRA for parcel-level details on water use. “The District was unwilling to share customer information of any kind,” said Casitas general manager Michael Flood.

 

The District’s refusal runs afoul of the Public Records Act, according to Bondy. The Public Records Act requires public agencies to release utility-usage data of its customers to another public agency when it’s necessary for the performance of its official duties, he said.
In a letter to the agency, Casitas stated the customer water-usage records are exempt from disclosure because there’s nothing in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 that mandates the release of the specific information to groundwater sustainability agencies such as UVRGA.
The lawsuit filed last week requests the court issue a writ of mandate directing CMWD to disclose the records sought by UVGRA. “I’m very disappointed that that particular board took this action. That’s not how public agencies work together,” Flood said. “They appear to want to force people to hand over their data.”
The data that UVRGA seeks concerns agricultural customers who get their water from both groundwater wells and from deliveries by a local water district. “We’re not so much interested in how much water they’re using from the districts; we’re actually trying to back that out of the total water they use for irrigation, so that we can narrow down what the groundwater use is,” Bondy said.
Bondy, who also serves as executive director with the Mound Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency in Ventura, initiated the request for the data.
Casitas is willing to share customer data with other governmental agencies, but the customer would have to come forward and request the data be shared. “We’re more than willing to do that, but absent customer approval, we’re not going to share that data,” Flood said.
In response to the request from UVRGA, Casitas did provide monthly water deliveries broken down into zones instead of individual parcels.
But not only do the zones extend long distances, at times outside the basin, the data represented total water deliveries — residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial, Bondy said. “So, even within a zone, I would not know how much agricultural water was used. We would have no way of aggregating that data into something useful.”
Though Casitas turned down the request for customer data, both the Meiners Oaks Water District and the Ventura River Water District agreed to provide the data, with an agreement to keep the information confidential.
Bondy said the data will only be used by technical staff, including himself, in developing the groundwater sustainability plan. UVRGA directors, which include the city of Ventura, will not see the quantities of water used by individual parcels, just the aggregate usage in the groundwater basin, Bondy said.
“I’m confident that the engineers that are going to use this data will use the normal, professional practice in keeping the data confidential,” said Bert Rapp, general manager with VRWD.
Per state rules, UVGRA must use best available data and information in developing the groundwater sustainability plan. In the long run, Rapp said, the data will provide a more reliable plan. “If we don’t have the accurate data, it’s garbage-in and garbage-out, and we’ll have much lower confidence in the results of our GSP,” he explained.
Bondy said the data requests are unrelated to the ongoing Ventura River groundwater adjudication lawsuit, to which the UVRGA is not a party.
But that’s just an opinion, Flood said. “Most folks would say that any information about how they use water definitely has a nexus to a groundwater adjudication that is going to possibly detemine what they can do with their water.”
Casitas was given 30 calendar days to file a written response at the court and have a copy served on UVRGA.

No court date has been set.

 

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