GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Legal setback for Sweetwater Authority groundwater desalination project

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 9, 2011

The Sweetwater Authority’s plan to construct five additional wells south of the Sweetwater River in the San Diego Formation as part of its project to expand the Richard A. Reynolds Desalination Facility has hit a legal roadblock. In a ruling on the City of San Diego’s lawsuit challenging certification of Sweetwater’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), Judge Ronald S. Prager agreed with some of the objections raised by San Diego.

According to the court’s Minute Order, four issues were subject to review: 1) whether Sweetwater complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in approving the project and certifying the FEIR, 2) whether the FEIR contained an adequate project description re. brine discharge point, 3) cumulative impacts, and 4) whether the FEIR includes a reasonable range of project alternatives or discusses feasible mitigation measures.

On issues 1 and 2 the judge denied San Diego’s contentions, ruling in favor of Sweetwater.

On issues 3 and 4 the judge agreed with San Diego that Sweetwater did not take into consideration the cumulative impacts of any particular past, present, or probable future projects, and that the proposed mitigation and monitoring are inadequate.

While the judgment has not yet been made official, it will be based on the minute order, according to Glenn Spitzer, one of the attorneys working on the case for the San Diego City Attorney (click here for a copy of the June 28, 2011 Minute Order).

The foregoing represented Phase I of what is called a “bifurcated” trial. In addition to the CEQA issues, San Diego had also challenged Sweetwater’s water rights in the San Diego Formation. The water rights question will be addressed in a Phase II portion of the trial. A resolution on the water rights issue could take a couple of years, according to Mr. Spitzer.

I wasn’t able to get comments from San Diego or Sweetwater officials, but the issue is on the closed agenda for next Wednesday’s July 13, 2011 Sweetwater Authority Board Meeting.

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