A complaint has been filed against the United Water Conservation District (UWCD) and the State Water Resources Control Board alleging that 70-year-old agreements between United and the state have failed to adequately protect the wildlife, resources and communities alongside the Santa Clara River.

The Wishtoyo Foundation, along with its Ventura Coastkeeper Program, the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a joint complaint detailing the alleged damage done to the Santa Clara River’s ecosystem on Tuesday, but plans to lodge the complaint had come to fruition long before.

The complaint alleges that since the 1940s, when the district began to ramp up production from the Vern Freeman Diversion approximately 10.5 miles up the Santa Clara River, the estuary and communities surrounding the river have suffered catastrophic decline.

In 1958, the State Water Board granted the district a diversion of up to 375 cubic feet per second (104,360 acre-feet), and in 1973, without modification, turned the permit into a license. In 1983 the state granted the district an additional 40,000 acre-feet per year.

The complainants argue that the permits are “inadequate to protect the Santa Clara River’s public trust resources,” stating that the native Santa Clara fish, fauna and avian species are all but gone, replaced by invasive plants, and that the “communities alongside the Santa Clara have experienced drastically higher unemployment and poverty rates, drastically lower annual household and per capita/individual incomes, and overall disproportionately disadvantageous economic conditions in comparison to other Ventura County communities.”

The complaint also alleges that the district artificially keeps its cost low to deliver water to its customers by not implementing practices that could be beneficial to the health of the river.

The Wishtoyo Foundation and supporting complainants state that the State Water Board and UWCD have violated the California Public Trust Doctrine, the California Fish and Game Code, and article X, section 2, of the California Constitution by failing “to consider impacts to the Ecological and Recreational Public Trust Protected Resources and the Chumash Public Trust Protected Resources” in the Santa Clara River.

“United has had a long-standing disregard in implementing feasible solutions that would allow it to continue its historic annual diversion while protecting the Santa Clara’s public trust resources,” said Jason Weiner, associate director and staff attorney at the Wishtoyo Foundation’s Coastkeeper Program. “There are studies that have been completed recently that demonstrate the impacts.”

The complaint asks that the district’s permit and license be re-opened and modified to mandate a release of flows that would “sufficiently mimic the Santa Clara’s natural flow” during its cycle throughout the year and to make use of rainfall as a source rather than pulling directly from the river, reducing the impact on the ecosystem while continuing its historic average annual diversion at the Vern Freeman Diversion.

The UWCD received the papers Tuesday afternoon, but Michael Solomon, general manager, said he had an idea of what the complaint would allege without having to read it.

“We have a water right there and we will obviously challenge it,” said Solomon.

To read the complaint in full, visit www.wishtoyo.org/news-and-publications.html