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San Diego County Water Authority sues over Fallbrook, Rainbow possibly leaving district

Posted at 6:39 PM, Aug 22, 2023

FALLBROOK, Calif. (KGTV) — In an "unprecedented" move, the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) is suing a local commission for approving the decision to allow two north county water districts to seek water elsewhere.

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) "is responsible for coordinating, directing, and overseeing logical and timely changes to local governmental boundaries," according to the website.

In July, LAFCO voted in favor of allowing Rainbow and Fallbrook to get their water supply from a source in Riverside County instead of SDCWA, as the two districts hope for cheaper water rates.

However, SDCWA says water prices for the rest of the county will increase as a result.

"By our math, the impact to all other ratepayers outside of Rainbow and Fallbrook... and in fact 70% to 80% of (agriculture) is to the tune of about $140 million dollars," says Dan Denham, the General Manager of SDCWA.

According to the lawsuit filed on Monday, LAFCO "failed to fulfill its statutory duty to act as a "watchdog" to guard against haphazard organizational changes."

The complaint alleges LAFCO violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by approving the reorganization of the districts.

LAFCO responded to the lawsuit in a statement to ABC 10News.

The decision by the San Diego County Water Authority to file a CEQA lawsuit against San Diego LAFCO is disappointing. The record is clear and shows LAFCO has followed the CEQA statutes to a tee and appropriately determined Fallbrook and Rainbow’s reorganizations meet the State’s long-standing exemption allowance covering jurisdictional changes where existing public service are being transferred from one agency to another agency within the same territory. Further, and despite a public review process lasting more than three years, the County Water Authority did not produce any substantive evidence showing unusual circumstances exist to justify LAFCO overriding the exemption allowance to require additional analysis at the cost of taxpayers. LAFCO stands by the exemption determination, County Water Authority’s displeasure notwithstanding.
Keene Simonds, LAFCO Executive Officer

Despite SDCWA expressing concern for other farmers in San Diego County, one in Valley Center told ABC 10News reporter Natalie Chuck he supports the separation.

"Yes, our water bill will go up, and I'm certainly not happy about that, but if it allows agriculture as a whole, especially that super important avocado growing region, to continue... It almost seems worth the sacrifice for agriculture in San Diego," says Mark Larson, who owns a flower farm and manages the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

The lawsuit explicitly states, "The Water Authority does not contend that Fallbrook and Rainbow cannot leave" and continues to read, "Fallbrook and Rainbow were required to pay their fair share of the Water Authority’s indebtedness."

As of now, voters in Fallbrook and Rainbow will have the chance to vote on the issue on the November 7, 2023, ballot.

Denham says conversations between SDCWA and the two counties are ongoing.