Olivenhain Dam
The Olivenhain Dam is a water-reliability project that Fallbrook and Rainbow say they don’t benefit from. Courtesy San Diego County Water Authority

A bill requiring a countywide vote before individual water districts can detach from an agency passed the Assembly on Tuesday, but it won’t prevent residents of Fallbrook and Rainbow from voting on Nov. 7.

Assembly Bill 399 passed on a vote of 47 to 8, with 25 members, including Assemblymember Marie Waldron from North County, not voting. It now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, but if he signs it into law, it won’t take effect until Jan. 1.

The two rural districts are seeking to join the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County, which draws primarily from the Colorado River and the State Water Project, to secure lower-cost water for farmers.

Fallbrook and Rainbow argue they don’t directly benefit from San Diego County Water Authority investments like the Carlsbad desalination plant, enlarged San Vicente Reservoir and Olivenhain Dam emergency storage project, and are willing to take their chances with droughts in order to get cheaper water.

The two districts issued a join statement after the vote on AB 399 accusing legislators of being deceived by false information in voting for the bill.

“Because supporters of this legislation were forced to remove the urgency provision in order to get the bill out of the state Senate, our detachments will be legally decided on by our districts’ voters before this legislation finally takes effect in 2024,” according to the statement.

But for other water districts that might pursue their own cost-savings alternatives in the future, this is bad news. Sadly, legislators were deceived by the Water Authority and the City of San Diego who snuck this bill through based on false and misleading information.”

The detachment effort is the first of its kind in California, and the Water Authority asserts it will shift approximately $140 million in costs to the rest of the authority’s customers.

The Water Authority has filed suit in Superior Court, citing environmental harm under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.