Yuba City loses fight over Oroville Dam water
The State Water Project was authorized in 1951.
In 1960, voters approved a then-massive $1.75 billion general obligation bond measure to build a complex system of reservoirs, dams, power plants, pumping plants, canals and aqueducts operated by the Department of Water Resources to deliver water to contractors who received entitlements to an annual amount of water.
In return, repay a proportionate share of the financing and maintenance of the project facilities. Oroville Dam is the largest piece of the State Water Project.
A state appeals court has dealt Yuba City and other State Water Contractors a blow in their battle with the Department of Water Resources.
After eight years of litigation, the court upheld how the Department of Water Resources allocates revenue from hydropower production at Oroville Dam.
Water contractors from Southern California joined the litigation, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court in 2005, and defended the department's position.
"These complex issues, by their very nature, take many, many years to go through," said David Okita, general manager of the Solano County Water Agency, one of the plaintiffs.
"This one was very complex because the contract interpretation occurred in the '60s and '70s and nobody was around who you could call as a witness. The documents were lacking."
Diana Langley, Yuba City's deputy Public Works director, said the decision "does not have a significant impact on Yuba City. Yuba City's water allocation is very minor compared to the other State Water Contractors."
Earlier this month, the 3rd District Court of Appeals sided with a Sacramento County Superior Court judge, who ruled for the Department of Water Resources.
"The primary issue in this appeal after a court trial is whether the trial court properly interpreted the standard State Water Project contract regarding how to credit water recipients (contractors) with the revenues from Oroville Dam hydropower," the appeals court said.
The Department of Water Resources buys the power for use within the State Water Project, "although some of it is then pooled with other SWP system power and traded or resold on the open market."
Yuba City was one of 14 plaintiffs in the suit. Butte County was another. They receive water from the State Water Project, primarily Oroville Dam, which voters authorized through a $1.75 billion bond.
The Sacramento County judge, in ruling for the Department of Water Resources, noted, "The central dispute in this case concerns the meaning of the term 'total revenues' from Hyatt-Thermalito power in ... those water supply contracts. Specifically, how Hyatt-Thermalito power is to be valued, and the effect of that valuation upon the price of (State Water Project) water to be paid by the contractors ... is at the very heart of this action."
Hyatt-Thermalito is part of the Oroville Dam complex.
Okita said if the plaintiffs had prevailed, "We would have had a recalculation of (the rate we pay), and our rate would have gone down, and those south of the Tehachapis would have gone up. How much was really not calculated."
CONTACT Harold Kruger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4774.