San Juan Capistrano

Golf Course Sues City Over “Stolen” Water

By John Perry

The San Juan Hills Golf Course filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court on August 28 against the City of San Juan Capistrano and the San Juan Basin Authority for Breach of Contract, Trespass, Conversion of Water, and Negligence. The Golf Course is asking for a Permanent injunction and Damages incurred by the Golf Course.


The basis of the dispute is the amount of water the City is pumping from the San Juan Basin (the aquifer) that lies beneath the Golf Course. In 1997, the City and the Golf Course signed an agreement that the construction of the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP) could not interfere with the Golf Course’s right to pump 550 acre feet of water per year from its wells.

Two years ago the City obtained a grant from Federal and State sources to expand the GWRP to increase its output, which required increased pumping of the basin (see “Tapped Out; City Over-pumped Basin” in the August CCS). The suit claims that the City is pumping over 500 million gallons per year of water from city wells near the golf course well and that action combined with a lack of rainfall has caused the basin water levels to drop to 53 feet below ground level. This has resulted in a shortfall in the amount of water available to the Golf Course, which fell from 550 acre feet to 200 acre feet per year.

The Golf Course has accused the City of over-pumping water in violation of the signed and notarized agreement in place since 1997. Without its rightful allocation of water, the Golf Course has been forced to stop watering portions of grass and landscape, causing plants and trees to die.
The suit maintains that the City has a source of water available from the Metropolitan Water District that is actually less expensive than that produced by the GWRP, which meets the City’s need for water to supply its customers.

The lawsuit also claims the over-pumping by the City may cause permanent damage to the aquifer because the balance of withdrawal and recharge of water are out of balance, creating a “potential ecological disaster.”The Golf Course is asking for a permanent injunction (see "San Juan Hills Golf Club v City of SJC" under Community Links on the right) to stop the City from taking water from the basin until the level of the water table returns to 15 feet (below ground level) to allow the Golf Course to take the water it needs to maintain the course. The City Council met in closed session to and agreed to defend the lawsuit using attorneys from Rutan and Tucker.

John Perry graduated from USC with a Masters Degree in Education with additional certification in School Business Management. He worked in Education for 25 years as an Assistant Superintendent of Business Services before retiring. John was appointed to the Special Water Management and Operations Audit Committee in 2011 and is a founding Board member of the Capistrano Taxpayer’s Association.

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