Master-planned community will get water under new agreement

Water will continue to flow from taps in the homes of a San Joaquin County master-planned community after local officials reached an agreement that will continue supplies to about 15,000 residents.

Mountain House purchases all its water from a single rural irrigation district, which was covered by a recent state order limiting water diversion for some rights holders who have held them for more than a century.

Under an agreement reached in principle Monday, the community will continue receiving water from the Byron Bethany Irrigation District and will accept financial responsibility for any fines or penalties associated with its delivery, a statement from the water supplier's general manager said.

Mountain House, an upscale community near Tracy, learned of its precarious situation this month when the State Water Resources Control Board issued a notice ordering the district to “immediately stop diverting water.”

The board can fine a water user $1,000 to $10,000 per day for violating the “senior rights” curtailment order or subsequent “cease and desist” orders issued by regulators. It gave the district until Monday to submit a compliance form.

News of the curtailment sparked fear in the community that the taps could run dry if officials failed to find another water source. The irrigation district had been scheduled to shut off water to Mountain House on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the state water board would accept the agreement between Mountain House and the irrigation district.

In its letter to the irrigation district, the board acknowledged that “some water users must comply with directives … to provide continued water service to meet minimum health and safety standards.” The board promises to “carefully analyze” water deliveries for that purpose “on a case-by-case basis.”

George Kostyrko, a spokesman for the state water board, said last week that state regulators didn’t have enough information about Mountain House to speculate about how officials might deal with the situation.

In addition to Mountain House, about 160 farmers are affected by the curtailment order, water district officials said.

“While the agreement allows [the water district] to meet Mountain House's immediate needs, farmers in the region and the communities that depend upon them still face unprecedented potential impacts to their livelihood as a result of curtailment,” Byron Bethany General Manager Rick Gilmore said in the statement.

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