A seven-year dispute over a water system in Madera Ranchos culminated with a court judgment earlier this month requiring Madera County to make repairs and finish planned improvements to the system at the Continental Estates Subdivision by April 24.
If improvements aren’t made by then, the court will require the county pay for temporary water service and delivery, estimated at $1,500 per day.
The dispute began in the spring of 2008, when the county — which owns, operates and maintains the system — sued the subdivision’s 27 homeowners for resisting water rate increases, said the homeowners’ attorney, Brian Whelan.
In response, three of the homeowners intervened with a lawsuit to defend the community’s interests.
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What ensued was a 2009 agreement between the groups, followed by an amended agreement in 2012. At first, the county agreed to transfer responsibility of operating and maintaining the water system to a successor public agency. When that didn’t happen, a new agreement was reached in the fall of 2012. The county agreed to provide “adequate water well production, legal water quality, and adequate storage … during normal and peak usage periods.”
Whelan said the homeowners showed incredible patience, but it had run out by the summer of 2014, when the subdivision’s residents often found themselves without running water. He said their water system was in disrepair and the working wells that fed it were pumping less water due to California’s historic drought.
“It was a pretty dire situation,” Whelan said. “Some homeowners went out and rented water trucks to try and save their landscapes.”
Court findings state “the county did not work diligently to complete the water system” and that the subdivision’s residents “were harmed as a result of the county’s breach of contract.”
Tired of waiting for water and the promised upgrades, the homeowners took the county to court in August. But instead of proceeding to the jury phase of the trial, the groups asked the court to issue a judgment. On Feb. 6, Madera County Superior Court Judge James Oakley ordered Madera County to install all necessary water infrastructure improvements servicing the subdivision by April 24 and to pay Whelan’s law firm $215,000. On Friday, Whelan said the amount had been paid. The judgment also states Madera County cannot increase road fees in the subdivision within the next three years.
Whelan said the county plans to meet the April 24 deadline and that a new well has already been drilled for the subdivision. When it becomes operational, he said there will be three working wells that should meet Continental Estate’s needs.
The county continues to look at increasing water rates at the subdivision. On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors will consider setting a hearing in April to examine new rates. The board is also being asked to tie the rates to increases in the consumer price index.