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Groundwater agency sues Delano over Niagara water bottling plant

Water bottling operation.
Photo by Jonathan Chng
Water bottling operation.

Concerns over how a newly built water bottling plant will impact the already over drafted aquifer prompted the Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District to sue the City of Delano last month.

The district is asking that approvals for the Niagara water bottling plant be set aside and, ultimately, that a permanent injunction be granted to bar the plant from operating.

The lawsuit, filed April 22, alleges Delano did not conduct appropriate environmental reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act and that it didn’t hold a public hearing before approving the Niagara plant, which is already hiring employees and hosting community events.

It’s unclear exactly when the plant was approved, but a will-serve letter for the plant’s connection to Delano’s water system was issued Aug. 30, 2022.

Roland Gross, General Manager of the utility district, which also acts as the area’s groundwater sustainability agency (GSA), declined to comment for this story. A call to Delano Mayor Joe Alindajao was not returned.

The lawsuit states the plant is expected to pull 1,792 acre feet a year from the aquifer and export it out of the subbasin without providing any new water to make up for that loss. It also states the Delano was supposed to develop a groundwater plan in concert with the GSA per a 2017 memorandum of understanding.

Gross had previously said that the GSA heard rumors about the plant but nothing official until an article appeared in The Bakersfield Californian. He was floored, he said, especially as Delano makes up most of that GSA’s water deficit.

Delano Mayor Alindajao previously told SJV Water that the city didn’t need to go through the GSA as it was connecting the plant directly to its existing system, not drilling a new well.

Who has authority over new water uses can be tricky under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The law, enacted in 2014, gives authority over groundwater pumping to the GSAs, but also expressly preserves the existing rights of cities and counties to manage groundwater for domestic use.

In previous interviews, Gross said he didn’t consider bottling and selling off native groundwater to be a domestic use.

SJV Water is a nonprofit, independent online news publication covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Lois Henry is the CEO/Editor of SJV Water. She can be reached at lois.henry@sjvwater.org. The website is www.sjvwater.org