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Water suit hearing set for March 15

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Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter
The next status conference in the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper case is set for Monday, March 15 at 1:30 p.m.
A status conference is a meeting of a judge and attorneys in a legal matter to keep track of progress in a case.
At the last status conference in the case Feb. 9, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger agreed on March 15 for the proposed physical solution to be lodged with the court for the first time.
But he did not set a schedule for an evidentiary hearing on the physical solution, and essentially said the city of Ventura is moving too quickly toward a hearing, while two state agencies are taking too long to release critical studies on the watershed.
Highberger told lawyers representing the city of Ventura that the city needs to correct and regularize its database of defendants’ names and parcel numbers, which he called “a haystack.”
He told lawyers representing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board that the agencies are “taking too darn long” to release studies on the flow needs of endangered Southern California steelhead and the connectedness of the Ojai Valley’s four water basins to the river.
CDFW’s draft flow recommendations were released Feb. 26, but the state board’s draft model is not expected until the end of summer or early fall, according to attorneys for the state.
At the Feb. 9 hearing, the court shortened the statutory period for many parties in the case by ordering that all initial disclosures be filed by June 1.
Highberger also agreed to hold status conferences on the third Monday of each month at 1:30 p.m., except for May, when the hearing will be held on May 10.
The case stretches back to 2014, when the nonprofit environmental group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper sued the city of Ventura for taking too much water from the Ventura River, to the detriment of southern steelhead.
In January of 2020, Ventura turned and pointed upstream, filing a cross-complaint against thousands of property owners in the Ojai Valley and Ventura.
On Sept. 15, 2020, a group of large water users, including the city of Ventura, Ventura River Water District and Meiners Oaks Water District, released the proposed physical solution to protect the watershed.
To register for remote audio access to the March 15 hearing, see https://my.lacourt.org/remoteaudio/welcome.
You must register for each hearing beforehand in order to gain remote audio access.

For more information on the case, visit the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication website at https://www.venturariverwatershedadjudication.com.

 

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