Well plans put on hold

Angelique Flores

FOUNTAIN VALLEY -- Plans for the Laguna Beach County Water District to

build a well in the city were put off Tuesday after local residents

protested.

Laguna Beach County Water District's board of directors approved the

final draft of the project's environmental-impact report, but unanimously

voted not to proceed with plans until the district can address concerns

raised at the meeting.

Fountain Valley officials and residents showed up to protest the possible

drilling of an extraction well at a Laguna-owned piece of property in the

parking lot behind Kmart on Harbor Boulevard and Lilac Avenue.

The Laguna Beach district is looking to lower water rates and create an

emergency source of water by claiming ground-water basin rights dating

back to 1926. Water for Laguna Beach is now supplied by the Metropolitan

Water District of Southern California, which imports water from the

Colorado River and Northern California.

In 1993, the Orange County Water District agreed to let Laguna Beach pump

water from a well in Huntington Beach. However, Laguna has not done so

because the water at that well is contaminated by saltwater.

By trying to drill in Fountain Valley, the district is reaffirming its

rights in the basin, said Jim Nestor, the Laguna Beach district's acting

general manager.

However, Orange County Water District officials said Laguna Beach doesn't

have any right to take water from a well in Fountain Valley.

"It's an illegal exportation of water," said Ron Wildermuth, the Orange

County Water District's spokesman. "It's a violation of state water

agreements."

Wildermuth said Laguna Beach has not paid taxes to the Orange County

Water District since the 1940s that would have helped maintain and

improve the basin.

"We worked hard to increase the yield in the basin. They didn't

contribute to the effort," he said.

The Orange County Water District isn't alone in its opposition to

Laguna's plan.

"They haven't properly addressed all the impacts the project would have

on Fountain Valley," said Ray Kromer, Fountain Valley's city manager.

The city and its residents in the Tiburon North and the Harbor Valley

homeowners associations are concerned about the noise the drilling and

the construction of a pipeline along the paved portions of Harbor

Boulevard and Edinger Avenue would bring.

"We're a very quiet complex," said Jean Kulemin, a member of the Tiburon

Homeowners Assn. "Drilling would be intolerable."

The Laguna Beach district said it would get in and out as quickly as

possible and has considered placing residents in hotels during the 45

days of construction needed.

"It's downright arrogant for Laguna Beach to suggest that if we didn't

like the noise we can go to a hotel," Kulemin said.

Before construction would begin, Fountain Valley would need to grant a

permit allowing the district to build the well. City officials have said

they will hold off on granting a permit as long as they can.

Officials from Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana are concerned

that the proposed well would pump water from their water supply. Along

with the Costa Mesa and the Mesa Consolidated water districts, the cities

agree that the environmental report did not properly address everyone's

concerns and how the project would affect their water supply and quality.

Laguna Beach has several alternative plans that include a swap with

another water agency or looking into alternate sites in Huntington Beach.

"It was encouraging that they didn't proceed with the project. Should it

come up again, we will be ready to oppose it," said Bill Ault, Fountain

Valley's director of public works.

The Orange County Water District has said it is ready to proceed with

legal action if the Laguna Beach County Water District decides to move

forward with the project.

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