Water suit court hearing calls for community involvement

A hearing in the U.S. v. Fallbrook Public Utility District court case is slated for 9 a.m., Aug. 23, in San Diego at the Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse.

Members of the Anza-Aguanga Citizens for Water Rights group and their attorneys are calling for concerned residents to attend the hearing, in which the AACWR lawyers will ask the court to lift a stay on the case so it may proceed to conclusion.

In 1951, the United States of America filed Complaint No. 1247 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California to seek a formal judgement of all respective water rights within the Santa Margarita River Watershed. The final judgment and decree was entered May 8, 1963, and appealed to the U. S. Court of Appeals. A modified final judgment was entered April 6, 1966. Among other things, this decree provides that the court:

“…retains continuing jurisdiction of this cause as to the use of all surface waters within the watershed of the Santa Margarita River and all underground or subsurface waters within the watershed of the Santa Margarita River, which are determined in any of the constituent parts of this modified final judgment to be a part of the subsurface flow of any specific river or creek or which are determined in any of the constituent parts of this modified final judgment to add to, contribute to or support the Santa Margarita River stream system.”

In March 1989, the court issued an order appointing the “Watermaster” to administer and enforce the modified judgment.

The Anza Groundwater Basin is located along the Cahuilla Creek in the upper portion of the Santa Margarita Watershed. The most recent studies of water storage volumes was conducted by Riverside County in 1990, and the studies concluded that “basin hydrogeologic features, production facilities’ conditions and locations/depths of storage…” limited the usable portion to 40 percent of groundwater storage, or about 56,200 acre-feet in 1986. Granted, these figures are very dated and beg for new studies.

The Cauhilla Band of Indians and Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians filed motions in 2007 asking the court to quantify their rights to the river, saying the river’s surface and ground waters are the tribes’ sole water supply. Some 2,000 neighboring landholders were notified that their water rights were in litigation. The parties are in settlement negotiations.

Tony Ault, journalist for the Anza Valley Outlook and Village News, reported in 2016 that “According to developers who have tried to get commercial well permits in Riverside County, many of those requests have been unsuccessful due to the still-pending settlement (of U.S. v. Fallbrook Public Utility District) and the county’s strict commercial fire protection rules. The county requires commercial builders to show how much water would be available to firefighters handling a major fire on the property. In urban areas like Temecula, developers usually have large water districts to provide the needed water for both their residential and commercial projects. As a result, the developers are able report how much water would be available from nearby lakes, large storage tanks and reservoirs in a fire emergency. However, the story is different for developers in the Anza and Aguanga areas,” where these resources do not exist.

These policies have stifled commercial development, and therefore job creation, in the economically depressed areas of Anza and Aguanga in unincorporated Riverside County.

The AACWR organization is encouraging all concerned citizens to attend the court hearing 9 a.m., Aug. 23, in San Diego.

The group feels that just having a large number of people in the courtroom will have a great impact on the judge, as he will see that the community is serious about settling this long-overdue case.

The court is located at the Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse, 221 W. Broadway, in San Diego. Attendees should enter on the mall side. Carpooling will be available. For more information, contact Robyn Garrison by email at robynsong@aol.com or by phone at (805) 312-0369.

The Anza-Aguanga Citizens for Water Rights website has not been updated since 2010, but still contains some useful information. Residents can look forward to an updated version soon, say A-ACWR officials. It is located at www.aacwr.info/index.html.

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