State High Court Rejects Legal Challenges by Cities of Downey, Signal Hill and Cerritos, the Central Basin Municipal Water District and Tesoro Oil Company
The California State Supreme Court delivered an important legal victory to the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) and to district ratepayers when it rejected appeals by the Central Basin Municipal Water District and the cities of Downey, Signal Hill and Cerritos, Tesoro Oil Company challenging the courts jurisdiction to rule on an important Groundwater Storage Plan for the Central and West Coast groundwater basins.
“The California Supreme Court’s decision is an important win for ratepayers throughout the region because it puts us back on track for the court to rule on the merits of the storage plan,” said WRD Board President Albert Robles. “Unfortunately, these wasteful lawsuits have cost WRD and ratepayers time and money – 3 years in delays and millions of dollars in legal costs.”
In May 2009, Central Basin Municipal Water District, Tesoro Oil Company and the three cities filed a suit opposing a 2-year state mediated groundwater storage plan created to tap into the 450,000 acre-feet of storage capacity for groundwater. By storing more groundwater, the region could dramatically reduce the need for expensive imported water and have supplies in during seasons with low rainfall. Central Basin Municipal Water District is the region’s designated provider of imported water.
In 2010, a trial court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. WRD and several other cities, (including Los Angeles, Long Beach, Lakewood, Torrance and Inglewood) and water companies, appealed that determination to the Appellate Court which the court reversed, finding the trial court did have jurisdiction.
In February, Downey, Signal Hill, Cerritos and Central Basin Municipal Water District escalated their legal battle by filing a petition for Supreme Court review which was summarily denied. In rejecting the challenges, the Supreme Court affirmed decisions made by the Appellate Courts. Among other things, those decisions overturned lower court rulings and concluded that, contrary to the arguments of the challenging entities, the court:
- Had jurisdiction over groundwater storage, including the allocation and governance of storage;
- Had jurisdiction to authorize the transfer of water from one Basin to the other;
- Had jurisdiction to appoint WRD as a member of the Watermaster body outlined in the petitions; and
- That the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act do not apply to the petitions to amend the Judgments.
The cases now return to the Superior Court for trial on their merits.
“Five million dollars in unnecessary legal costs later, we are back where we started three years ago,” said Lakewood Public Works Director Jim Glancy. “The Supreme Court decision in the Central Basin case is an invitation to the litigant cities to stop throwing money down a legal rat hole and to join their colleagues in making the storage plan work for all groundwater pumpers. It is also an admonition to the Central Basin Municipal Water District to get out of the case altogether and to drop its costly, ill-conceived and now legally indefensible groundwater storage plan.”
Long Beach Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier said the Court’s decision “represents a huge victory for the region and the state. Having the ability to store water in the few years when there is a surplus for use in the many years when we have drought is a way to reduce our reliance on imported water while assuring our water needs can be met.
“Two years ago,” Wattier said, “more water flowed under the Golden Gate Bridge in one week than our region uses in an entire year. Had our storage framework been in place, we could have stored much of that water here for use now when state water supplies are low.”
City of Torrance Public Works Director Rob Beste said the court’s decision in the West Basin case reaffirmed the confidence the majority of West Basin pumpers had in the storage plan in the first place. “We never understood why Tesoro and Hillside would oppose a plan that was in their best interests to support,” he said. “We hope the Supreme Court decision will encourage them to be more introspective and support the petition out of self-interest as well as for the region as a whole.”
WRD General Manager Robb Whitaker said the Supreme Court decision was “very good news for the entire state. The Central and West Coast groundwater basins have the largest unused groundwater storage capacity in any urban area of California. The basins overlie an area that encompasses 43 cities and 10% of the state’s population. Putting that capacity to beneficial use will help assure the future viability of our water supply needs for generations to come,” Whitaker said.
A proposed law designed to keep water bills from skyrocketing has passed a state Senate committee, but opponents vow to fight the measure they say is a “political power grab.”
Senate Bill 1386, authored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would remove barriers to storing groundwater in the Central Basin and would allow for underground water reserves to protect against high rates in dry periods. Area cities and water agencies have been embroiled in legal battles over how and by whom the water should be stored.
“Without this bill, continued efforts by the Central Basin Municipal Water District will lead to more and more lawsuits, create greater and greater legal bills, and result in higher rates for our region,” said Lowenthal in a written statement following the committee vote.
“Enough is enough,” the senator added. “It’s time we move forward as a region, and I believe SB 1386 provides us with the path to resolution.”
WRD’s comprehensive network of monitoring wells in the Central Basin to be incorporated into statewide groundwater monitoring program.
The California Department of Water Resources has officially designated the Water Replenishment District of Southern California as the Groundwater Level Monitoring Entity for Central Basin and West Coast sub-basin under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) Program. The CASGEM program is a statewide groundwater monitoring program that will make groundwater information readily and widely available. WRD has established a large network of monitoring wells in the Central Basin and regularly analyses both water levels and water quality in the area.
“WRD is pleased that DWR recognizes the expertise and experience of its staff to provide the groundwater information,” stated WRD Board President Sergio Calderon. “For over 50 years, the District has prepared and published an annual Engineering Survey and Report which contains current and historical data on groundwater production, the annual and accumulated overdraft, groundwater levels, and detailed information on groundwater conditions. Additionally, WRD’s Hydrogeology Group prepares and publishes an annual Regional Groundwater Monitoring Report, first issued in1972, which relies on the District’s nearly 300 depth-specific monitoring wells at over 50 different locations.”
“WRD also appreciates support by the Central Basin Water Association and the West Basin Water Association that the District be named as the area’s groundwater monitoring entity,” commented WRD GM Robb Whitaker. “The Water Associations are important stakeholders and the District works closely with them to ensure that the Central and West Coast groundwater basins are protected.”
Basin Boundaries and Hydrology
The Central Subbasin occupies a large portion of the southeastern part of the Coastal Plain of Los Angeles Groundwater Basin. This subbasin is commonly referred to as the “Central Basin” and is bounded on the north by a surface divide called the La Brea high, and on the northeast and east by emergent less permeable Tertiary rocks of the Elysian, Repetto, Merced and Puente Hills. The southeast boundary between Central Basin and Orange County Groundwater Basin roughly follows Coyote Creek, which is a regional drainage province boundary. The southwest boundary is formed by the Newport Inglewood fault system and the associated folded rocks of the Newport Inglewood uplift. The Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers drain inland basins and pass across the surface of the Central Basin on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Average precipitation throughout the subbasin ranges from 11 to 13 inches with an average of around 12 inches.
Water Bearing Formations
Throughout the Central Basin, groundwater occurs in Holocene and Pleistocene age sediments at relatively shallow depths. The Central Basin is historically divided into forebay and pressure areas. The Los Angeles forebay is located in the northern part of the Central Basin where the Los Angeles River enters the Central Basin through the Los Angeles Narrows from the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. The Montebello forebay extends southward from the Whittier Narrows where the San Gabriel River encounters the Central Basin and is the most important area of recharge in the subbasin. Both forebays have unconfined groundwater conditions and relatively interconnected aquifers that extend up to 1,600 feet deep to provide recharge to the aquifer system of this subbasin (DWR 1961). The Whittier area extends from the Puente Hills south and southwest to the axis of the Santa Fe Springs-Coyote Hills uplift and contains up to 1,000 feet of freshwater-bearing sediments. The Central Basin pressure area is the largest of the four divisions, and contains many aquifers of permeable sands and gravels separated by semi-permeable to impermeable sandy clay to clay, that extend to about 2,200 feet below the surface (DWR 1961). The estimated average specific yield of these sediments is around 18 percent. Throughout much of the subbasin, the aquifers are confined, but areas with semi- permeable aquicludes allow some interaction between the aquifers (DWR 1961).
The main productive freshwater-bearing sediments are contained within Holocene alluvium and the Pleistocene Lakewood and San Pedro Formations (DWR 1961). Throughout most of the subbasin, the near surface Bellflower aquiclude restricts vertical percolation into the Holocene age Gaspur aquifer and other underlying aquifers, and creates local semi-perched groundwater conditions. The main additional productive aquifers in the subbasin are the Gardena and Gage aquifers within the Lakewood Formation and the Silverado, Lynwood and Sunnyside aquifers within the San Pedro Formation (DWR 1961). Specific yield of deposits in this subbasin range up to 23 percent in the Montebello forebay, 29 percent in the Los Angeles forebay, and 37 percent in the Central Basin pressure area (DWR 1961).
Historically, groundwater flow in the Central Basin has been from recharge areas in the northeast part of the subbasin, toward the Pacific Ocean on the southwest. However, pumping has lowered the water level in the Central Basin and water levels in some aquifers are about equal on both sides of the Newport-Inglewood uplift, decreasing subsurface outflow to the West Coast Subbasin (DWR 1961).
NGWA Announces 2011 Groundwater Industry Awards
Today the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) announced its recipients for 2011. One of NGWA’s Outstanding Ground Water Project Award’s will be presented to the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD). WRD will receive the “Ground Water Protection Award” for its exceptional Regional Groundwater Monitoring Program. The awards will be presented at the 2011 NGWA Ground Water Expo in November.
For over 50 years, WRD has been managing the groundwater replenishment and water quality activities for the Central Groundwater Basin and West Coast Groundwater Basin in south Los Angeles County. The analyses of information from the WRD Regional Groundwater Monitoring program helps the District plan and implement projects and programs to increase recycled water use, prevent seawater intrusion and capture and conserve stormwater.
The WRD Regional Groundwater Monitoring Program includes 300 dedicated monitoring wells where groundwater levels and groundwater quality are tracked and analyzed The District compiles an annual report to convey the groundwater monitoring results to the public and regulatory agencies. This report can be accessed online at www.wrd.org.
“The foresight WRD had 50 years ago to keep track of groundwater conditions is paying huge dividends today,” Board President Sergio Calderon said. “We now operate one of the more sophisticated groundwater database programs in the country. Among other things, that contributes to robust groundwater management to assure a safe and reliable groundwater supply for the future”.
Since 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been working with the Water Replenishment District of Southern California in a cooperative ground-water and geologic study of the Los Angeles Basin. Now, with additional support from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, the USGS is expanding this program to study the distribution and geologic history of sediments as deep as 1,500 feet (450 meters) below city streets. This information is critical not only to ground-water management but also to earthquake hazard assessment in the densely populated region. During a strong earthquake, ground shaking may cause water-saturated sediment to “liquefy,” resulting in ground failure. Therefore, knowing the composition of near-surface sediment is important for assessing the vulnerability of buildings to liquefaction and other damaging effects of earthquakes.