Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is named after a former Carlsbad mayor. Photo via

The Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the San Diego County Water Authority overcharged by nearly $6 million for desalinated water that was never delivered, despite an agreement to construct a pipeline for that exact purpose.

According to Vallecitos, the water district agreed to the direct delivery of desalinated water from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant via a dedicated pipeline. The district alleges that at the time, the Water Authority was actively recruiting partners to buy into the desalination plant as part of a plan to make the plant financially viable.

Vallecitos committed to purchasing about 3,500 acre-feet of desalinated water annually, and invested nearly $1.5 million into the pipeline’s design and construction, which was completed in 2015, according to the complaint. The agreement held that the Water Authority would manage and maintain the pipeline.

In 2017, the Water Authority told Vallecitos there were “some areas of possible concern” with the connection, which would require repairs. Vallecitos alleges it offered to make the repairs, but that the offer was rejected.

The complaint states, “The Water Authority did not inform Vallecitos that the direct connection would be shut down indefinitely.”

Vallecitos alleges that it was delivered regular treated water over the next 16 months, yet was charged the premium desalinated rate, resulting in nearly $6 million in overcharging.

The complaint states that Vallecitos only learned more than a year later that the direct connection had never been turned back on. The district said it “had no way of knowing that the pipeline had still been shut down and the water they were receiving was replaced since there isn’t a separate meter or indicator to demonstrate water quality.”

Reached for comment, a San Diego County Water Authority spokesman said the agency has not had an opportunity to review the complaint.

Glenn Pruim, Vallecitos Water District general manager, said, “If you go to the gas station to fill your car with premium gas, you trust that the gas station has not replaced it with regular while charging you more — we should be able to put that same trust in our region’s trusted water leader. We built the pipeline, agreed to pay a premium for desalinated water and entrusted the Water Authority to serve as a responsible partner in managing the resources and infrastructure — but that is not what happened. It’s unfortunate that we are in this situation, however, our repeated attempts to work with the Water Authority on finding a fair and reasonable resolution to this matter have been ignored.”

Vallecitos states it is seeking reimbursement for the amount it was allegedly overcharged during the pipeline shutdown, along with amendments to its original contract with the Water Authority.

–City News Service