July 16, 2016
Interim watermaster board selected
PALMDALE - A Los Angeles County water official, board members for Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency and Littlerock Creek Irrigation District, a Tejon Ranch executive and an onion farmer have been named to the interim board that will monitor pumping from Antelope Valley wells.
A key component in the settlement last December in a 16-year-long court battle over rights to Valley groundwater, the five-member Antelope Valley Watermaster board was sanctioned June 30 by retired Superior Court Judge Jack Komar, who presided over the case.
The board members are Adam Ariki, Leo Thibault, Robert Parris, Dennis Atkinson and John Calandri, named under the settlement that gives a seat each to the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency and the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts. The third seat must go to another public water supplier, and the last two seats to representatives of landowners.
Ariki, an assistant deputy director at Waterworks Districts, will represent that agency. Parris, a board member at Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, represents that entity.
Thibault, president on the board of directors for the Littlerock district, is representing the public water suppliers. The board's two landowner seats are being filled by Atkinson and Calandri.
Atkinson is the senior vice president of Agriculture and Water Resources at Tejon Ranch Co.
Calandri owns and operates Calandri/SonRise Farms, an Antelope Valley owner.
"The court approved the election of the two landowner seats," said Leland McElhaney, an attorney and partner in the firm of Brunick, McElhaney and Kennedy, which represents Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency in the lawsuit.
McElhaney said Atkinson and Calandri won the landowners seats in an election.
More than 80% of the landowners listed in the lawsuit judgment voted, according to McElhaney.
There were four people nominated for those two seats, McElhaney said.
Atkinson received 39,721 votes; Calandri garnered 31,406 votes; nominee Derek Yurosek had 13,744 votes; and 5,031 votes came in for nominee Randall Scott.
Yurosek is director of agricultural operations at Bolthouse Farms, a carrot grower. Scott is an officer for Antelope Valley Water Education and Outreach LLC. He was nominated by the mutual water companies and small landowners who wanted a voice on the watermaster board.
"Each voter was entitled to cast votes based on the acre-feet allocated to them in the judgment," McElhaney said.
"So, if somebody has 10,000 acre-feet, they got 10,000 votes," McElhaney said. "If somebody has 1,000 acre-feet, they got 1,000 votes. This is based on the water rights allocated under the judgment."
The election was monitored by James DuBois, an attorney representing the federal government.
Dwayne Chisam, general manager at Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, declined to comment and referred comments to the entity's attorney because, he said, "there was a legal aspect" to this case.
John Ukkestad, spokesman for the Antelope Valley United Mutual Group, also declined comment, despite the fact that the mutual water companies ended up with no representation on the watermaster board. United Mutual is comprised of 16 member water companies.
McElhaney said the parties will be back in court on Sept. 6 for issues related to the watermaster rules and procedures for electing board members.
The lawsuit began in October 1999 when Diamond Farming Co. filed suit against Lancaster, Palmdale Water District and other entities regarding water pumping rights.