Leaders Commemorate Long-Term Success on The Santa Ana River

By Kristeen Farlow

In Riverside County, right along the Santa Ana River, local leaders and community members came together to commemorate 50 years of peace along the River.  On April 12, nearly 100 people celebrated two 1969 court judgments for the water rights of the Santa Ana River that are still in place today.

In 1963, two major lawsuits were filed regarding surface water and groundwater pumping rights across the Santa Ana River Watershed that included more than 4,000 litigants.  One lawsuit was filed by the Western Municipal Water District and the other by the Orange County Water District.  To simplify the process, it was agreed there would be four representative parties: Orange County Water District, Western Municipal Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and Inland Empire Utilities Agency (formerly known as the Chino Basin Municipal Water District).  On April 17, 1969, both lawsuits came to an end.

The Orange County Judgment provides water users in the lower basin rights to receive minimum and average water flows, measured at several locations throughout the region. San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Western, and IEUA are required to maintain minimum base flow requirements.  The Western-San Bernardino Judgment laid out a framework for dividing water resources in the San Bernardino Basin Area, Colton Basin, and Riverside Basin in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

These two judgments became known as the 1969 Settlement and are still in place today.

“There is a lot that goes into ensuring a reliable water supply,” commented Paul Hofer, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Board President. “As a resident within the Santa Ana Watershed, you can rest assured that the water you need every day will get to you because of the decisions and judgments that were put in place 50 years ago.”

The four agencies continue to work together today and are known as the Santa Ana River Watermaster and Western-San Bernardino Watermaster committees. Both committees are required to submit an annual report to the court to demonstrate compliance with the judgments.

“These agencies manage the resources that make our quality of life possible,” commented keynote speaker Congressman Ken Calvert (42nd District).  “Water agencies have done important and great work to reduce demand on imported water. But now more than ever we need to fix the California water system and fix the broken delta conveyance paradigm.”

The accomplishments over the last 50 years owe a great deal to the contributions made by the former and current members that have served on the Watermaster committees.  Through multi-agency cooperation in the watershed, these agencies are able to secure water supplies for urban uses while also mitigating environmental impacts.  The Settlement allows flexibility for future changes in hydrology, agency actions and governance.  The original engineers, attorneys, water professionals and other stakeholders anticipated potential future changes and, thus, prepared a document that could be amended.  This flexibility has allowed the Settlement to maintain peace over the last 50 years as well prepare for peace for the next 50 years.

At the celebratory event, one of the original Watermasters, Don Harriger, submitted comments to be read to attendees. He reflected “Businesses and residents throughout the watershed have benefitted greatly from the peaceful coexistence of water interests and the many water infrastructure improvements in water reliability and water quality that have resulted.”

“Hope springs eternal,” reflected Art Baggett, the master of ceremonies for the event and water law attorney familiar with the 1969 judgment. “Here’s to another 50 years of peace, cooperation and collaboration on the Santa Ana River.”

The Santa Ana River is the largest river in Southern California. It begins in the San Bernardino Mountains and flows downstream to Prado Dam in Riverside County, into Orange County and out into the Pacific Ocean. The river meanders 96 miles through diverse terrain: alpine forest, arid desert, chaparral environments and flat coastal plains.

To learn more about the Santa Ana River Watermaster, check out this video: https://youtu.be/2Wen96Xz8Z8.

Kristeen Farlow, MPA, is Manager Water Use Efficiency/External Affairs for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.