Phase 1 of the Cachuma Project Water Rights Hearings began in November 2000, but was limited to presenting testimony to the State Board regarding the status of the studies required by WR 94-5. The State Board also considered a long-standing petition by Reclamation and the Member Units to change the permitted "place of use" for Cachuma Project water to coincide with the existing water service area for the Cachuma Project, which had increased over time since the original permits were issued.
The Phase 2 hearing in October and November 2003 was of primary importance. Extensive testimony and evidence were presented by the Cachuma Conservation Release Board (CCRB), the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, ID No. 1 (ID No. 1), and Reclamation to the State Board regarding the proposed flow and non-flow enhancement actions identified in the Cachuma Biological Opinion and Lower Santa Ynez River Fish Management Plan for the protection of the steelhead fishery downstream of Bradbury Dam. Other parties, such as the Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, and California Trout requested that additional studies be undertaken to assess the feasibility of reestablishing anadromous steelhead in the upper Santa Ynez River watershed above Lake Cachuma.
Between Phases 1 and 2 of the hearing, an historic Cachuma Project Settlement Agreement was signed by CCRB, ID No. 1, the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, and the City of Lompoc, resolving all key issues related to the protection of downstream water rights on the Santa Ynez River. At the Phase 2 hearing, the terms of the Settlement Agreement were presented to the State Board, and it was requested that certain changes be made to WR 89-18 to formalize the agreement.
Phase 1: 2000
Phase 1 of the hearing was convened in November 2000 to discuss the completion of the studies required by the State Board in 1994, and to evaluate requested changes to the authorized boundaries within which Cachuma water could be applied.
Phase 2: 2003
In October and November 2003, Phase 2 of the hearing was held. Testimony was presented to the State Board related to proposed changes in the operation of the Cachuma Project. It addressed the continued delivery of vital water supplies, and protection of the steelhead fishery downstream of Lake Cachuma. The State Board prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on Cachuma operations in August 2003, and two revised Draft EIRs, one in July 2007 and a 2nd Revised DEIR in April 2011. These documents evaluated several alternatives to current operations. The final EIR was issued in December 2011.
An evidentiary hearing was held in March 2012 for the State Board to take testimony from the preparers of the Final EIR and the parties to the hearing relevant to the issue of admitting the Final EIR into the hearing record. After considering the hearing testimony, the Hearing Officer ruled that the evidentiary standard had been met, and that the Final EIR would be admitted into the hearing record. The record was then closed.
The State Board must now consider the EIR's conclusions and all testimony presented at both phases of the hearing (2000 and 2003) in order to make a final decision and issue a new water rights order for the Cachuma Project. The date of the decision is still unknown, however, it is anticipated that the State Board will issue a new water rights order by the end of 2012.