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Battle over water in Goleta heats up in court

A battle over water is in front of a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge.

The Goleta Water District is suing Law and Order creator Dick Wolf.

Both sides have been fighting it out in court since mid-September over rights to an aquifer on Wolf’s Slippery Rock Ranch in the foothills of Goleta.

The water district says the water beneath Wolf’s ranch belongs to the public.

“The water located up in the foothills and underneath Mr. Wolf’s Slippery Rock Ranch is water that recharges the Goleta groundwater basin. Under California law that is something the district has a right to and is seeking to enforce that right for the benefits of its customers for generations to come,” said Carl Blumenstein, council for the water district.

Ranch spokesman Cory Black disagrees.

“What the ranch has which is supported by science and also by legal precedent is that the water that is underneath the ranch is not connected to the Goleta water basin and therefore the Goleta Water District has no legal right to it,” said Black.

Black said the real issue comes down to the water district’s decision to take the case to court, rather than move ahead with negotiations with the ranch.

“The two parties were in negotiations over the water district obtaining water from the ranch like it has done historically. It’s done it several times in the last 20 or 30 years. The Goleta Water District broke off those negotiations and filed a lawsuit,” Black said.

The question of how much water is actually at stake is still unanswered.

“No one really actually knows because of the science of how much water gets trapped in this bedrock. It can depend year to year, decade to decade, depending on rainfall,” Blumenstein said. “Our experts have estimated that this is something on the order of several hundred acre feet of water per year which is a substantial portion of the recharge to the Goleta groundwater basin.”

The ranch has previously indicated it would sell the water to nearby cities including Montecito. But, Black said right now it’s about proving ownership.

“The ranch has no current plans to sell the water or transfer it off of the ranch,” Black said.

A judge is hearing from expert witnesses from both sides. The trial is expected to wrap up next week. A decision could come as early as November.

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