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Vallecitos files $6.1M suit against San Diego County Water Authority

REGION — Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, so goes the old saying.

And in San Marcos, the Vallecitos Water District has filed a lawsuit against the San Diego County Water Authority and is seeking $6.1 million in reimbursement regarding a dispute over a direct connection to desalinated water from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

Vallecitos is alleging SDCWA failed to deliver desalinated water for nearly 16 months and overcharged the water utility company by $6.1 million for delivering a “blended” mix of water, according to Vallecitos General Manager Glenn Pruim.

“It took us a long time, even after bringing it to their attention, to get the line back in service,” he said. “We worked for months to just get them to do it. They eventually put it back in service but didn’t do the repairs.”

In 2015, Vallecitos built a $1.5 million dedicated pipeline to deliver 3,500 acre-feet of desalinated water to the district every year. The pipe was constructed south of State Route 78 between Cherokee and Pawnee streets off Rancho Santa Fe Road.

The pipeline connected to a 10-mile stretch of pipe built from the plant to the connection point in San Marcos, Pruim said. In November 2017, a routine inspection revealed a “minor” issue, a protective coating that was not applied by the contractor to prevent rust at a specific point.

He said Vallecitos offered to make the repair, but SDCWA declined and said it would repair the issue. However, it wasn’t until a Vallecitos employee was notified in 2018 by an employee at Poseidon Water, which operates the desalination plant, SDWA had turned off the pipeline.

Prium said his district was still being charged the premium rate for desalinated water, which runs $2,800 per acre-foot, instead of the $1,700 rate for the blend, which combines water from the Colorado River and Northern California. By calculating the numbers from SDCWA is how Vallecitos reached $6.1 million.

“They charged us the full desal rate the entire time,” Prium said. “The water authority reached out … and said does anybody want to buy a share of this desal plant. Our contention is, within the agreement, there are certain circumstances under which you will get direct desal water.”

In a letter from SDCWA GM Sandra Kerl, the water authority said it was not required to specifically deliver desalinated water according to the contract. According to Kerl’s letter, the SDWA has the discretion to deliver water from any source or connection.

Additionally, she said the contract does not require a specific water quality to be provided or from a specific source. Also, she said SDCWA staff told the Vallecitos in November 2017 it would receive the blended supply.

Kerl also explained that on May 22, 2018, an SDCWA engineer told a VWD employee the water authority would keep the pipeline closed until a determination could be made on the repair and work schedule.

On March 14, 2019, the SDCWA placed the pipeline back in service, according to Kerl. She also noted the life of the pipe is 75 years and it could be in jeopardy due to potential rust.

“The Water Authority has provided extensive communication to Vallecitos staff regarding the status of the connection pipeline and the fact that a blended supply was being provided,” Kerl’s letter reads. “At no time prior to you contacting the Water Authority’s General Manager’s office in late January 2019, did anyone from Vallecitos staff express a concern regarding the connection pipeline being out of service or receiving the blended supply.”

Prium, whose district serves San Marcos, Carlsbad, Vista, Escondido and parts of unincorporated San Diego County, disputes those claims, noting VWD signed the contract specifically for desalinated water.