ROSAMOND — The Rosamond Community Services District Board of Directors, on Thursday, agreed to begin eminent domain proceedings to obtain water rights from agricultural land owned by the Calandri family on Rosamond’s west side.

The Board unanimously approved a Resolution of Necessity, which declared it in the public interest to acquire the property for the water rights.

Ed Lear, a litigation attorney representing the Calandri family, said they will challenge the action as a violation of the water basin adjudication.

The District is facing shortages in its future water supplies, as it is limited in the amount of groundwater it may use to serve its customers, a result of a 2015 court settlement that established groundwater pumping limits across the Valley.

Because the amount allowed as part of this adjudication is less than what RCSD customers have historically used, District officials have been seeking additional, permanent water supplies.

The court settlement has a five-year ramp-down period to allow water providers to gradually reduce the amount of ground­wa­ter they use until they meet the al­location in 2023. At that time, RCSD will be reduced to pumping 404 acre-feet of water annually, down from the more than 2,000 acre-feet the district used annually prior to the settlement.

An acre-foot is 325,851 gal­lons, or approximately the amount of water a typ­ical Antelope Valley house­­hold historically used in one year, be­fore recent droughts reduced usage.

“Our other efforts to obtain water have come up empty and RCSD needs to act now. We can act at the last minute,” General Manager Steve Perez said.

The eminent domain proceedings seek to obtain 1,776 acre-feet of groundwater rights allocated to nine parcels, roughly between Gaskell Road and Willow Avenue and 60th and 70th Streets West.

The parcels are owned by John A. Calandri of Calandri Water Company; John A. Calandri and Shannon C. Calandri as cotrustees of The John and Shannon Calandri 1992 Trust; and Katherine Calandri Nelson, trustee of The Katherine J. Calandri Nelson 2008 Trust, according to the Resolution.

These parcels are close to an RCSD well and the existing water distribution system, Perez said.

“The Rosamond Community Services District can not locate another willing seller to secure sufficient water rights to meet the shortfall,” he said.

Other sources available are short-term, not permanent supplies, he said.

The District is also nearing completion of a water reclamation plant that will provide some credits to pump additional groundwater, but not enough to make up the entire shortfall.

Some time ago, the District had a letter of intent to purchase the water rights to these properties, after the owners approached the District about selling, Perez said.

“We did not go hunting John Calandri; he came hunting us,” he said.

At the time, the District had another offer to purchase water rights that it turned down in order to purchase the Calandri rights, Perez said.

The sale was never completed following the letter of intent, leading to the District’s action, Thursday.

“To say it is regrettable that the negotiations fell apart is an understatement,” said Brandon Calandri, representing the Calandri family before the Board.

He said there are others with unused water rights interested in selling that have not, to his knowledge, been approached by RCSD.

“It is our hope not to hurt RCSD,” he said, citing long-time family ties to the community. “Unfortunately, this is a stain on our legacy, because negotiations fell apart and it’s regrettable.”

According to Calandri family representatives at the meeting, the water is being used for farming, through an agreement with another farm.

“We are using the water now to farm,” Scott Smith of Gene Wheeler Farms said. “I’m just here to beg you, please, there’s got to be something else that you guys can do to not take away the water that we’re using, in the Valley, to employ, to feed, to produce.”

“We just fear that we’re next in line,” said Gary Van Dam, of Van Dam Farms and High Desert Dairy, in speaking against the Board’s action.

“Make no mistake about it, the Calandri family and their entities do not want to sell the water currently,” said attorney Steve Derryberry, general counsel for the Calandri family.

Lear listed several aspects of the eminent domain action which will be challenged, before being cut off for exceeding the time limit for public comments.

“Our position is that the District will be violating the tenets of the water adjudication order,” he said. “We have grounds to go in and immediately seek an injunction.”

Lear disputed Perez’s contention that the District has an urgent need for the water rights, citing banked water reserves. The two parties disagree on how much is banked for the District.

Lear also contended that the District has not made sufficient effort to purchase other water supplies. “We’re not aware of that; in fact, we’re aware of just the opposite,” he said.

Derryberry also cited water reserves available to the District and a failure to purchase nearly the same amount of water rights from farmer Gene Nebekker when they were for sale, as reasons to negate the necessity for eminent domain proceedings.

Perez said following the meeting that other water available for purchase in the area is for temporary, not permanent supplies.

The Antelope Valley Watermaster oversees the groundwater adjudication. In that role, it administers transfers of water among entities.

Asked if the District would need Watermaster approval for obtaining rights from a different party to the court settlement, Perez said following the meeting it would not be necessary.

“It’s not going to create a material injury to the basin,” he said, referring to negatively altering the maximum allowable groundwater that may be removed.

Kathy Mac Laren, a Palmdale Water District Director and member of the Watermaster Board, cautioned against moving forward with the eminent domain proceeding without further communication.

“I’m very confused by all this and very concerned on this taking place like this,” she said via telephone during the meeting. “I do believe there is other ways of getting water.”

She referenced the many years of fighting prior to the court settlement and the relative cooperation since.

“I fell like we’re all in this together,” Mac Laren said. “This definitely needs more conversation.”

Also during the special Board meeting, on Thursday, the Board approved  financing that would provide up to $17.5 million to acquire water rights. This would be repaid through the District’s water rates, and was included in the rate study conducted last year, officials said.

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