Santa Ana River Commemorates 50 Years of Collaboration

This month commemorates the 50th anniversary of a momentous water rights and management agreement between four water agencies in the Santa Ana River Watershed, which was made possible thanks to two 1969 court judgements for the water rights of the Santa Ana River.

“These two judgements have had a positive and lasting effect for all residents in the Santa Ana River Watershed,” said SAWPA’s General Manager Richard Haller. “Communities in the watershed enjoy a reliable water supply while ensuring both upstream and downstream water interests and rights are protected.”

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Five decades ago, the Santa Ana River had been facing years of substantial legal disputes over surface and groundwater rights that included more than 4,000 litigants, which led to two major lawsuits filed by Western Municipal Water District and Orange County Water District.

In order to bring the lawsuits to an end on April 17, 1969, it was legally decided that rights to the Santa Ana River would be managed by four representative parties, which include Western Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency (formerly known as Chino Basin Municipal Water District), San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Orange County Water District.

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A look at the two judgements known as the 1969 settlement:

  • The Orange County Judgement provides water users in the lower basin rights to receive minimum and average water flows that are measured at several locations throughout the region. San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Western Municipal Water District and Inland Empire Utilities Agency are required to maintain minimum base flow requirements. Through this judgement the Santa Ana River Watermaster Committee was formed.
  • The Western-San Bernardino Judgement divided water resources in the San Bernardino Basin Area, Colton Basin and Riverside Basin in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and led to the formation of the Western-San Bernardino Watermaster Committee.

Both the Santa Ana River Water Master and Western-San Bernardino Watermaster committees are required to demonstrate compliance with the judgements through submitting an annual report to the court.

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Another important outcome of the judgement, was the development of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, which was established to resolve any future water conflicts in the watershed and implemented project and programs to protect the water resources for future generations.

The ongoing partnership of the Watermaster committees ensures a more reliable, affordable and higher-quality water supply for regional customers; improvement of ecosystems as well as development of an endangered species recovery program; and improved water infrastructure and planning. Additionally, the forward-thinking settlement allows for future changes in hydrology, agency actions and governance.

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The largest watershed in Southern California is the Santa Ana River Watershed. Boasting an area covering roughly 2,840 square miles and more than 6 million people, the watershed includes portions of the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. The largest coastal stream in Southern California is the Santa Ana River. The river starts high in the San Bernardino Mountains and eventually ends 96 miles downstream in the Pacific Ocean. It meanders through diverse terrain, including alpine forest, arid desert, chaparral environments and flat coastal plains.

*Photos courtesy of Orange County Water District and Western Municipal Water District.