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County Water Authority Responds to Coastkeeper Suit on Water Plan
ByKen Stone on April 28, 2014

The San Diego County Water Authority on Monday defended its water-supply plan in the wake of a lawsuit by an environmental group filed the same day the water agency won a major victory against its water supplier.

The lawsuit was announced Monday by San Diego Coastkeeper.

The group said it filed suit Friday against the water authority for what it calls failures to account for the environmental impacts of existing and future water supply sources in its recently approved water supply plan.

Filed in San Diego Superior Court, the legal action calls on the water authority to follow state law by recognizing and accounting for the energy it uses to move and treat the region’s water.

“We care about our water supply’s energy use because it produces greenhouse gas emissions, a primary driver of global climate change,” said Matt O’Malley, San Diego Coastkeeper’s “waterkeeper.”

“Water supply decisions based on this plan could jeopardize the health and economic viability of San Diego County by contributing to climate change impacts like sea level rise.”

Coastkeeper filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, a state law that requires the agency to identify and address environmental impacts of its actions. The lawsuit holds the water authority accountable for failing to meet legal requirements addressing the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its water supply plan, the group said.

The water supply plan — officially called the Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update — explores the region’s needs for and options to address water supply, and sets precedent for related decisions through 2035.

On March 27, the water authority approved this plan and its accompanying Supplemental Program Environmental Impact Report and Climate Action Plan.

Coastkeeper said it had been part of the planning process since early 2013 and repeatedly called on the water authority to “prioritize and incentivize” conservation and recycling and carry out an appropriate greenhouse gas reduction plan.

The water authority declined to incorporate this public feedback, Coastkeeper said.

“The water authority claims they approved only a couple minor amendments to their plans and operations and can therefore avoid any real scrutiny,” said Everett DeLano, the Escondido attorney representing San Diego Coastkeeper. “In reality, the plans they approved will pose profound negative impacts to San Diego’s environment and ratepayers for years to come.”

The water authority has 20 days from receiving service to set a settlement conference date, Coastkeeper said.

Ken Weinberg, director of water resources for the agency, defended the 2013 master plan, saying the update and related environmental documents “involved about two dozen public workshops, meetings and hearings since September 2011.”

“The water authority’s documents not only meet the letter of the law, they are good for the environment and good for the region,” Weinberg said in response to a Times query.

“The master plan update continues to place an increased emphasis on water conservation and local water supply development in San Diego County that was established in the water authority’s 2010 Urban Water Management Plan.”

As an example, he cited the 2013 master plan update’s analysis of future regional water supply reliability, which “identifies potable reuse as the next most likely increment of local water supply in the county.”

It prioritizes the efforts under consideration by water authority member agencies, such as a large-scale potable reuse project being studied by the city of San Diego, ahead of any additional regional supply projects being studied” by the agency.

Weinberg said construction of that project or others by member agencies would minimize or eliminate the need for the agency to develop extra water supplies over the next 25 years.

“Already, prudent investments and regional conservation efforts allowed the water authority to defer several major projects, decrease the size of other projects and reduce projected capital improvement program costs by at least $653 million through 2025 in the most recent master plan update.”

— A San Diego Coastkeeper press release contributed to this report.

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