Water is the least of California Valley's problems



The SLO County District Attorney’s Office filed felony election fraud charges against two California Valley Community Services District board members on Sept. 14.

The charges allege that board President Lisa Marrone and Director Misty Marie Lambert signed documents under the penalty of perjury saying they were residents of the California Valley, even though they both lived elsewhere. The DA’s Office issued arrest warrants for both Marrone and Lambert. 

But that’s not the only trouble happening in the community services district. On Aug. 2, the board voted to censure Directors George Ayres and Prince Frazier for alleged Brown Act violations and for violating the district’s policies and procedures. And on the morning of Sept. 14, CSD General Manager Vera Starr told New Times she was taking the district’s water woes into her own hands.

“I’ve just been waiting for the board to make a decision, and they keep pushing it down the road. I could no longer ignore what LAFCO [Local Agency Formation Commission] was saying,” Starr told New Times over the phone on Sept. 14. “As of today, I have posted signs at each faucet stating the faucets will be locked as of Sept. 21.”

She said there are five faucets located at the service district’s property along Soda Lake Road, and some of those are utilized as a water source by residents, Cal Fire, and the influx of medical marijuana growers who started amassing in the valley earlier this year. Who can still have access to that water, which is pumped from the groundwater basin underlying the valley, will be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to Starr. 

Demand on water from those spigots has increased rapidly into more than just what the county considers “incidental” uses—emergency use by Cal Fire, landscaping on the district’s property, and drinking water for area residents whose wells aren’t pumping potable water. There are nearly 200 medical marijuana growers in the valley, many of whom are leaning on that free water source to feed their thirsty plants.

“So, I’m giving everyone one week’s notice to find another water source,” Starr said. “If this water table went dry, Cal Fire couldn’t put out fires.” 

David Church, executive director of the SLO County LAFCO, said locking down access to water was not the intent of a letter he sent to the California Valley Community Services District this summer. The letter he sent stated that “the district should be aware that allowing this expanded use [for marijuana growers] would require the activation of its water power which is currently inactive or ‘latent.’”

The district has powers over road and solid waste services, and although water services formerly fell under the district’s umbrella, that power went away in 2004, according to Church. 

“Really the concern is the expansion of using that well; it’s not the incidental uses that they’d been doing for many, many years,” he said. “I think having growers using many, many gallons of [water from] it is going over the line.”

And while the district’s board of directors has agendized the discussion to apply for an emergency reinstatement of water powers to address the issue, that item was tabled at two meetings in August and at the board’s most recent meeting on Sept. 6. Church said the decision to close off access to water is up to the district.

“I mentioned to them that they can continue to allow access; it’s up to them. I didn’t say they had to shut down their well or do anything like that,” Church said.

According the district board member Frazier, the board didn’t make the decision to shut off public access to the water.

“She’s not supposed to do that without the confirmation of the board,” Frazier said of Starr’s actions. “And you can quote me on that.”

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