Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Los Angeles County Water Lawsuit and the Impact to the Land Investor

Superior Court Judge Jack Komar handed down his ruling in 2008 during the second phase of the Antelope Valley groundwater adjudication lawsuit. His ruling was that the entire Antelope Valley aquifer has” hydrologic connectivity”, and thus the entire aquifers are connected. This essentially will make it easier for the court to decide how much water can be removed annually. Once it actually decides. This lawsuit began in 1999 where Diamond Farming filed suit against Lancaster and Palmdale water entities over water rights.
It now involves hundreds in a class action lawsuit (case #1-05-CV-049053), and essentially all Antelope Valley property owners, and residents wishing to remove water from the aquifer.

According to the US Geological Survey the aquifers in Antelope Valley are recharged primarily by infiltration of stream flow that originates in the mountainous areas that surround the valley. The USGA estimated that from 1915 to 1950 average annual precipitation on the valley floor has been less than 10 inches, and runoff is minor. The maximum rate of withdrawal of about 400,000 acre feet per year was about 10 times the estimated annual recharge to the basin. An acre foot is about 325,850 gallons, or approximately the amount of water it takes to cover a football field to the depth of one foot. Water removed from storage in the aquifers has been a major part of the ground water withdrawals, and severe water level declines have resulted over the years. By about 1950, studies showed that ground-water withdrawals in the valley were greatly in excess of natural recharge and withdrawals were curtailed. Los Angeles County acquires water from numerous methods now.

Data indicates there is an abundant water supply in the valley. The primary sources of water are groundwater, surface water, and imported surface water while groundwater has been the primary source of water in the area. Prior to 1972, it provided more than 90 percent of the total water supply; after 1972, it provided between 50 and 90 percent. Groundwater is stored in the Antelope Valley Groundwater Basin and sources indicate it has an estimated capacity of 68 million acre-feet with a recharge rate of 31,200 to 80,400 acre feet per year. The primary source of surface water is the Littlerock Reservoir with a capacity of 3,500 acre feet. The imported surface water arrives from the State Water Project (also known as the California Aqueduct). Under the State Water Project the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency is contracted to deliver 160,000 acre-feet per year to the Antelope Valley.

Los Angeles County has needed more and more water over the decades. William Mulholland found the water the growing city needed in the Owens Valley and constructed the aqueduct, but even more water has been demanded. According to Aquafornia’s website the Colorado River Aqueduct brings water from the Colorado River to Southern California for urban uses, and the Imperial Irrigation District operates the Imperial Dam and All American Canal, which supplies water for irrigation in the Imperial Valley. The State Water Project brings water from the San Francisco Bay Delta and delivers it to farmers in the Central Valley, as well as providing water for urban uses in Southern California. Los Angeles County has been able to grow via these water aqueducts, and Lancaster and Palmdale can benefit in their future growth also.

The Antelope Valley groundwater adjudication lawsuit will primarily impact farming and property owners on unincorporated Los Angeles County land, where water wells are the norm. The court outcome is unknown, but the leaning appears to be limited water extraction from the aquifer being more likely. Would that mean a meter on your well, farming limits, and reduced custom home development, possibly? This can also have an impact on the value of County land, where little to no water means lower prices. As Lancaster and Palmdale grow then these cities will need to annex more county land and thus providing access to city water. Better valued land investment would be land in or near the current city limits until this lawsuit is settled.

The last date for a court hearing was November 11th and the topic was (3) Motion by New Anaverde to Substitute Parties and Permit Filing and Service of Supplemental Cross-Complaint; (4) Notice of Related Case filed by Tejon Ranch Corp (Burrows v. Tejon Ranch Corp, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. MC 021281), this is an issue the land investors need to be aware of and we will keep you informed here.

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