Agriculture · Hanford

Controversial Kings Co. water pipeline faces familiar foe in legal drama: CEQA

The latest round of legal war between a local water district and one of Kings County’s largest farming and water players over a controversial water pipeline being installed in the southern portion of the county has fallen victim to a familiar foe.

The foe? The California Environmental Quality Act, otherwise known as CEQA, the state’s marquee environmental law.

Last month, the Tulare Lake Canal Company sued Sandridge Partners, the farming and water giant owned by Santa Clara County native John Vidovich, over the construction of a water pipeline in southern Kings County. 

The Tulare Lake Canal Company argued that Vidovich’s pipeline and construction interferes with its easement property rights and damages the ability to deliver water to other farmers via its eponymous canal. 

Vidovich fired back with a cross-complaint of his own after the Tulare Lake Canal Company and the J.G. Bowsell Company placed heavy equipment on the land to block construction.

A Kings County judge denied Vidovich’s request for a restraining order to remove the tractor blockade. 

In its latest legal action, Tulare Lake Canal is arguing that Sandridge violated CEQA by failing to perform an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. 

The Tulare Lake Canal Company said in its lawsuit that Sandridge Partners said the pipeline is, at least in part, being built to transport groundwater from various well locations north of the community of Stratford and southwest of Lemoore to undisclosed locations. 

Last month’s lawsuit from Vidovich clarified the purpose of the pipeline project, stating that Sandridge was installing pipe to transport water along with a sleeve to transport sewage from the unincorporated community of Stratford.

The latter claim, which has become contested in its own right, has partially triggered the latest environmental suit.

The Tulare Lake Canal Company argued that since the Stratford Public Utilities District is the public entity responsible for wastewater treatment within Stratford, it was obligated to hold a public hearing and conduct an EIR under CEQA.

“Because [the Stratford Public Utilities District has] failed to hold any public forum for [the Tulare Lake Canal Company] to properly object to the project, combined with a conspiracy to keep details of [the] Project secret from the public, [the Tulare Lake Canal Company] has not had the opportunity to raise objections prior to filing this action,” the lawsuit reads.

Stratford’s utility agency has had a complicated, if confusing, relationship with the project.

Following the filing of the initial action by Tulare Lake Canal, legal counsel for Stratford’s Public Utilities District told The Sun that there had been cursory discussion between the two sides, but that no agreement had been reached.

The district’s chief counsel also attested to those facts in a declaration filed ahead of the temporary restraining order hearing.

The lawsuit also names Angiola Water District – a water contractor in Kings and Tulare Counties largely controlled by Vidovich – as a defendant and respondent in the case, along with the Stratford Public Utilities District. 

Similarly, Angiola Water District did not hold a public hearing or conduct an EIR on the project either, which the Tulare Lake Canal Company argues is a CEQA violation. 

“All California ‘public agencies’ must comply with CEQA when they approve discretionary projects,” the lawsuit reads. “Respondents are public agencies participating in a project to move water and sewage. Thus, their approvals of such a project is subject to CEQA.” 

The Tulare Lake Canal Company also alleged that Sandridge Partners violated CEQA by failing to provide “any mitigation measures whatsoever for environmental effects.” 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.