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California Senate takes side in L.A. County water feud

May 17, 2012 | 11:06 am

Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach)
[This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.]

A Southern California water war spilled onto the floor of the state Senate on Thursday over a bill that transfers between two feuding agencies the authority to store groundwater in southeast Los Angeles County.    

The Senate voted 31-4 to approve a measure that prohibits the Central Basin Municipal Water District from managing the importation of water for storage or storing groundwater in the area, leaving that job to the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said he authored the bill to end confusion over who should be in charge, saying it has resulted in about half the basin's groundwater capacity going unused.       

However, Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) said the bill is based on "political motives" and gives more power to a troubled water replenishment district. "What this legislation does is further fuel the flame of ongoing water wars by usurping power from one water agency to another," said Calderon, whose brother, Tom, has been a paid consultant for Central Basin.  

The two districts have battled for years in and out of court over issues including environmental regulations, rates, and charges of cyber-squatting and trademark infringement. The dispute has flared as the Central Basin district has sought a larger role in groundwater storage management in recent years.

Calderon said the Central Basin district better represents the interests of the working-class consumers in the area. "This bill would only open the floodgates to provide private water companies greater control over this vital public resource," Calderon charged.

Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), who abstained from voting, noted that the Legislature recently authorized a state audit to be conducted regarding resident complaints that they are being overcharged for mismanaged water in the basin.  

He tried to explain the dispute to his Northern California colleagues in the Senate. "This is a classic war in Southern California, an urban war, a water war, the Hatfields and McCoys," De Leon told his colleagues. SB 1386 next goes to the state Assembly for consideration.

[For the record, 1:06 p.m. May 17: A previous version of this post stated that Sen. Kevin De Leon had voted for the bill. He actually abstained.] 

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— Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times