Judge to decide on getting independent expert for water suit

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Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

The next status conference in the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication lawsuit is set for Monday, Sept. 20, at 9 a.m.

The conference before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger falls just five months before phase 1 of the bifurcated trial is set to begin.


At the last status conference Aug. 16, Highberger commented for the first time on the physical solution being proposed by major parties, including the city of Ventura, Ventura River Water District, Meiners Oaks Water District and other large agricultural water users.

Highberger said the proposed physical solution to protect the watershed appeared to be more about habitat restoration than pursuing additional sources of water, and questioned why imported water was not addressed in the document.

In his remarks to attorneys Aug. 16, Highberger also suggested a political solution to the dispute, rather than litigation, through mediation by a body such as the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

Monday’s status conference will include a hearing on a motion by Meiners Oaks residents Claude R. Baggerly and Patricia E. Baggerly requesting the court appoint an independent hydrology expert to help with the case.

In other developments in the case, the city of Ventura served its expert disclosures and witness reports Aug. 31, as ordered by the court.

The other major parties, including the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Parks Department, Casitas Municipal Water District, the city of Ojai, the East Ojai Group and the parties proposing the physical solution were given until Sept. 24 to serve their expert disclosures and witness reports.

The court ordered all other parties to serve their disclosures and reports by Oct. 22.

On Sept. 1, the State Water Board released the preliminary draft version of its groundwater-surface water model of the Ventura River Watershed, a document Highberger has called “a hugely important part of the puzzle.”

The court set Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. for the phase 1 trial where the city of Ventura will attempt to prove that the four Ojai Valley groundwater basins in question are interconnected with the Ventura River.

Monday’s status conference comes nearly seven years to the day (Sept. 19, 2014) since nonprofi t environmental advocate Santa Barbara Channelkeeper sued the city of Ventura and the state of California for taking too much water from the Ventura River.

In 2015, the city of Ventura cross-complained, adding large upstream water users to the lawsuit.

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