Court Rejects Challenges Against SDCWA Master Plan Update

On July 30, 1015, California Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Pollack issued a statement of decision in San Diego Coastkeeper (Coastkeeper) v. San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) ruling in favor of SDCWA.

Coastkeeper had filed the lawsuit arguing that SDCWA failed to account for environmental impacts—specifically energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions—in its 2014 Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update and Climate Action Plan. Specific arguments advanced by Coastkeeper include a challenge to the methodology that SDCWA used for preparing its Climate Action Plan and a claim that the Authority violated CEQA by failing to address the environmental impacts of a potential desalination project at Camp Pendleton.

Regarding the methodology used for preparing the Climate Action Plan, Judge Pollack found that SDCWA used an appropriate standard (the Local Government Operations Protocol developed by the California Air Resources Board).  Regarding alleged violations of CEQA, Judge Pollack found that the potential project was one among a list of possible long-term options and that “no specific action is recommended to proceed with immediate development of the long-term projects.”

Concluding his ruling, Judge Pollack wrote, “Although (Coastkeeper) states that its argument is directed at the 2013 SPEIR. The state of the record indicates that it is really taking issue with the water supply decisions (the Water Authority) made via the 2003 Master Plan.”

Later he added, “The Master Plan Update did not change these decisions but, instead, added five new infrastructure projects…which were not challenged by (Coastkeeper). Because the SPEIR is a supplement to an earlier EIR, it cannot be attacked based on things (the Water Authority) did not alter.”

SDCWA was pleased that the ruling affirmed its planning process.

“The ruling confirms that the Water Authority’s Board of Directors properly considered all relevant factors in approving the Master Plan Update and Climate Action Plan,” said Bob Yamada, director of water resources for the Water Authority. “It also confirms that Coastkeeper has been improperly attacking critical water supply choices the Water Authority has made in order to ensure that the San Diego region has a safe and reliable water supply, including its prior decision to pursue the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which will come on line later this year.”

Coastkeeper reacted to the ruling with a platform statement against SDCWA’s water supply approach and vowed to continue its advocacy for conservation and recycling.

“The Water Authority’s continued dedication to a ‘Supply from the West’ approach to the region’s water supply not only discounts the true cost of our region’s water, but contributes to the climate change that compels us to search for new supply options,” said Coastkeeper Executive Director Megan Baehrens. “San Diego Coastkeeper will remain vigilant in its role as a watchdog for the region’s water supply and continue to strongly advocate for common sense solutions like conservation and recycling. These options can greatly improve our water supply health today and in the future.”

In a separate court action on August 28, 2015, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow issued a final decision in San Diego County Water Authority v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California affirming his July 15th tentative ruling. The ruling awards SDCWA $188.3 million plus interest for the Metropolitan Water District’s contract breach and declares that SDCWA’s payments for transporting its independent Colorado River supplies must be included in the calculation of its preferential rights. (For background and additional information, see “Judge Karnow Finds for San Diego on Challenges to MWD Rates,” JOW July 2015).


Written by Marta L. Weismann