ROSAMOND – The Rosamond Community Services District Board of Directors on Thursday agreed to start eminent domain proceedings to secure water rights to farmland owned by the Calandri family on the west side of Rosamond.
The Council unanimously approved a resolution of necessity, which declared that it was in the public interest to acquire property for the water rights.
Ed Lear, a litigator representing the Calandri family, said they would challenge the action as a violation of the watershed award.
The district faces shortages in its future water supplies, as it is limited in the amount of groundwater it can use to serve its customers, following a 2015 court settlement that set limits pumping groundwater in the valley.
Since the amount allowed under this decision is less than what RCSD clients have historically used, district officials have sought additional and permanent water supplies.
The court regulations provide for a five-year slowdown period to allow water providers to gradually reduce the amount of groundwater they use until they reach the allocation in 2023. At that time , RCSD will be reduced to pumping 404 acre-feet of water per year. , down from the more than 2,000 acre-feet the district used each year before settlement.
One acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, roughly the amount of water a typical Antelope Valley household historically used in a year, before recent droughts reduced use.
“Our other efforts to obtain water have been unsuccessful and the RCSD must act now. We can act at the last minute, ”said CEO Steve Perez.
The prominent estate proceedings seek to secure 1,776 acre-feet of groundwater rights allocated to nine parcels, roughly between Gaskell Road and Willow Avenue and West 60th and 70th Streets.
The plots are owned by John A. Calandri of Calandri Water Company; John A. Calandri and Shannon C. Calandri as co-trustees of the John and Shannon Calandri 1992 Trust; and Katherine Calandri Nelson, Trustee of Katherine J. Calandri Nelson 2008, by resolution.
These plots are close to an RCSD well and the existing water distribution system, Perez said.
“The Rosamond Community Services District cannot find another vendor willing to secure sufficient water rights to cover the shortfall,” he said.
The other sources available are short-term, non-permanent supplies, he said.
The district is also close to completing a water harvesting plant that will provide credit to pump additional groundwater, but not enough to fill the shortfall.
Some time ago, the district had a letter of intent to purchase the water rights to these properties, after the owners approached the district about the sale, Perez said.
“We didn’t go hunting John Calandri; he came to chase us away, ”he said.
At the time, the district had another offer to purchase water rights that it turned down in order to buy the rights to Calandri, Perez said.
The sale was never finalized following the letter of intent, which led to the District’s action on Thursday.
“To say that it is unfortunate that the negotiations failed is an understatement,” said Brandon Calandri, representative of the Calandri family to the board of directors.
He said there are others with unused water rights interested in selling who have not, to his knowledge, been approached by RCSD.
“We hope not to harm RCSD,” he said, citing long-standing family ties to the community. “Unfortunately, it is a stain on our heritage, because the negotiations have failed and it is unfortunate.”
According to representatives of the Calandri family present at the meeting, the water is used for agriculture, thanks to an agreement with another farm.
“We are now using water for farming,” said Scott Smith of Gene Wheeler Farms. “I’m just here to beg you, please, there must be something else you can do not to take the water that we use, into the valley, to use it, to feed, to produce. . “
“We’re just worried that we’re next on the list,” said Gary Van Dam, of Van Dam Farms and High Desert Dairy, speaking against the Council’s action.
“Make no mistake, the Calandri family and their entities don’t want to sell water right now,” said attorney Steve Derryberry, general counsel for the Calandri family.
Lear listed several aspects of the eminent domain’s action that will be disputed, before being suspended for exceeding the public comment deadline.
“Our position is that the district will violate the principles of the Water Tender Ordinance,” he said. “We have reasons to come in and immediately seek an injunction.”
Lear took issue with Perez’s claim that the district is in urgent need of water rights, citing bank water supplies. The two parties do not agree on the amount set aside for the District.
Lear also argued that the district had not made enough effort to purchase additional water supplies. “We are not aware of it; in fact, we are aware of the opposite, ”he said.
Derryberry also cited the water reserves available for the district and not having bought nearly the same amount of water rights from farmer Gene Nebekker when they were for sale, as reasons to deny the need for ‘a prominent domain procedure.
Perez said following the meeting that other water available for purchase in the region is for temporary and non-permanent supplies.
The Antelope Valley Watermaster oversees the groundwater auction. In this role, he administers the water transfers between the entities.
When asked if the district would need Watermaster’s approval to secure another party’s rights to the court settlement, Perez said after the meeting it wouldn’t be necessary.
“This is not going to cause material damage to the basin,” he said, referring to the negative change in the maximum amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn.
Kathy Mac Laren, district manager of Palmdale Water and a member of the Watermaster board of directors, cautioned against moving forward with the eminent estate without further communication.
“I am very confused by all of this and very concerned about what is going on like this,” she said by phone during the meeting. “I believe there are other ways to get water. “
She referred to the many years of fighting before the tribunal settlement and the related cooperation since.
“I feel like we’re all in the same boat,” Mac Laren said. “It definitely needs more conversation. “
Also during the special council meeting on Thursday, the council approved funding that would provide up to $ 17.5 million to acquire water rights. This would be reimbursed through the district’s water tariffs and was included in the tariff study conducted last year, officials said.