Judge Cuts Fontana Water Company Off From Access To Rialto-Colton Water Basin

(March 25) San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Bryan Foster’s finalized ruling halting the Fontana Water Company for engaging in unbridled pumping of water from the Rialto-Colton Basin was entered on March 20.
Foster had tentatively ruled in February that an injunction against the Fontana Water Company was in order.
Fontana Water serves about 210,000 users in a service area that covers most of Fontana and portions of f Rialto, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, and unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County, utilizing 34 wells. But four of those wells tap into the Rialto Colton Basin, where water rights were adjudicated in 1961.
Since at least 2003, Fontana Water, which is owned by El Monte-based San Gabriel Valley Water Company, has been sucking water out of the Rialto Colton Basin at a rate well beyond its allotment.
The 1961 water adjudication grants various established pumpers clearance to draw from the aquifer, such that in wet years, the entities can extract freely, with the parties limited to their base pumping allowance in normal years and reduced to lesser amounts in dry years.
With the onset of an extended drought, the water suppliers were supposed to reduce their pumping in accordance with the lower water levels in the Rialto-Colton Basin since 2009. While the other pumpers limited their drawing of water from the Rialto-Colton Basin, Fontana Water has not.
In 2013 the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, the West Valley Water District, and the cities of Colton and Rialto filed a lawsuit against the Fontana Water Company, alleging that at the direction of its parent company, the San Gabriel Valley Water Company, it has since 2005 extracted nearly three times its base water pumping allotment established as part of the water rights adjudication regime put into place 54 years ago. That lawsuit was followed with another in 2014, filed by the cities of Colton and Rialto and the West Valley Water District, essentially reiterating the charge that the Fontana Water Company is utilizing more water from the basin than it is entitled to.
The Rialto-Colton Basin lies just east of the Chino Basin. There is a 1,600 foot wide and four mile long patch of ground that lies between the two aquifers where the Fontana Water Company sunk wells and from which it has been aggressively pumping. Fontana Water sought to maintain that those wells were not drafting from the Rialto-Colton Basin and that the 1961 adjudication did not pertain to wells located in the border area. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit contested that assertion.
Foster’s ruling vindicates the allegations in those suits. Pursuant to his ruling, Fontana Water will need to cease pumping water from the basin forthwith and not resume until September, at which point it would need to limit its use to the quantities specified in the 1961 adjudication.
Fontana Water officials must now find other supplies. Fontana Water will have the option of purchasing water from the state water project, which conveys water from Northern California to Southern California by means of the California Aqueduct, subject to availability and a price that has fluctuated in recent years from $500 to $1,200 per acre foot. An acre-foot is the amount of water that will cover an acre to a depth of one foot, that is 43,560 cubic feet or 325,853.4 gallons, which is typically the amount of water consumed by a household of four people in one year.
In the West Valley Water District, which has declared a Stage II Drought Alert and requested that its customers voluntarily reduce their water usage by 10 percent, district general manager Anthony “Butch” Araiza hailed the court’s decision.
“Judge Foster’s ruling confirms that everybody, even Fontana Water Company, must play by the same rules, especially during a historic drought,” said Araiza. “Nobody is exempt from the drought and Fontana Water Company can no longer take everyone else’s water in violation of established water rights agreements.”

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