From: Mike Sprague, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Published May 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Cities, Water Agencies Argue over Basin Uses

Who owns the underground water basins?


That is the question underlying a battle between cities and the large regional water agencies over whether more water as much as double the current amount can be stored in the underground basins.


Currently, water from such sources as rain, recycling and that purchased from Metropolitan Water District, is used to recharge the basin. A similar amount is pumped out each year.


But the underground basins could hold more water twice as much as they now hold, water officials agree.


The basins are 420 square miles in area, from the Los Angeles International Airport to the Orange County border and from the Whittier hills to the coastline.


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The basins have been likened to a bathtub with gravel, allowing water to seep down into them, from which the water can be pumped up later.


Storing additional water could end up saving water customers money and ensuring there is water to drink during the next drought or it could result in contamination and drying up of wells.


In a wet year like 2005, when there is extra water, it could be stored in the basin until it's needed in a dry year, said Kathy Kunysz, program manager for Metropolitan Water District.


But if the storage process isn't done correctly, there could be problems.


"If somebody puts water into the wrong place and causes contamination and closes wells of one or more of their neighbors, that would be a severe problem," said Jim Glancy, president of the Central Basin Water Association, which represents water utilities in the southeast area of Los Angeles County.


"When you (extract) the water, if it's done too fast or in the wrong place, you could dry up wells of a neighboring community," he said.


Disagreements on such matters are, in part, why setting rules on storing the water has not come easy.


"It's an issue of 'Who's going to be in charge?' ' said Mark Stuart, deputy water master and district chief for the state Department of Water Resources.


"Who's entitled to the storage?' he asked. "This is an issue of trust in the basins. Who do you trust?'


Officials of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California say it is their responsibility.


The district was established in 1959 to protect the underground basin. It sets an assessment fee to water utilities based on the amount of water they pump from the underground basin and uses that money to purchase water to recharge the basins to make up for the pumping.


Robb Whittaker, district general manager, said the district has a publicly elected board with responsibility for the basin, and thus should be in charge.


But those from the small cities say any kind of water storage process should be a shared responsibility of cities, the county, the replenishment district and the Department of Water Resources. The latter is responsible for accounting for water pumping out of the basin under a 1965 court ruling.


"We believe the storage capacity belongs to the cities," said Don Jensen, Santa Fe Springs' public works director. It doesn't belong to the (replenishment district). It has a monetary value attached to it.'


The issue will come to a head Wednesday when the replenishment district's board considers an ordinance setting up interim rules dealing with the process of approving water storage projects.


To see more of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sgvtribune.com.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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