La Contenta lawsuit against CCWD may  be headed for settlement

An improved relationship between Calaveras County Water District and the La Contenta Golf Course has meant green fairways the past few years on the links.

Course, district officials say they now have a positive working relationship

The La Contenta Golf Course in Valley Springs did not sign up a single new member in 2011 or 2012, and the course owners blame Calaveras County Water District for that failure, according to a court document filed by La Contenta’s attorneys in October.

Relations between the water district and the golf course got rocky back in 2011, and for a time, CCWD shut off the golf course’s supply of raw water from New Hogan Reservoir in an attempt to force the golf course to use more treated wastewater for irrigation.

That was in May of that year. Soon, ponds at the golf course were drained and became stinky, stagnant mud puddles. Grass turned brown in places. La Contenta filed suit against CCWD over both the water supply issue and a related question of $1.8 million in credits toward sewer connection fees that golf course owners said they were owed for helping CCWD to dispose of its treated wastewater.

The settlement conference statement filed by La Contenta Investors Ltd. in October states that golf course owners also believe CCWD owes them millions of dollars for other reasons.

“It is estimated that the loss of future revenue to the golf course because of what happened in the summer of 2011 resulted in approximately $1.2 million of reduced income over the next five years,” the statement said. “Also, because of false statements made by Calaveras County Water District in the local newspapers, the reputation of the golf course and its value suffered by approximately another $1 million.”

Now, more than three years after that suit was filed, it may be headed toward an out-of-court settlement, according to court documents. In the past two years, the start of a trial on the matter has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the two sides in order to allow them to try to negotiate a settlement.

Yet the bitter conflict portrayed in legal documents stands in stark contrast to the cooperative reality on the ground.

Although officials for both CCWD and La Contenta declined to discuss the lawsuit, they do say that their current working relationship is excellent. And a state irrigation permit issued in 2012 appears to have resolved the issues that triggered conflict in 2011. In fact, that permit and the working relationship between CCWD and La Contenta may serve as a model for how other golf courses can make efficient use of water in a drought-parched state.

“It is a very good permit. From an operational point of view for a golf course, it is great,” said Bill Perley, operations manager for CCWD. Perley said he hopes to develop a similar arrangement for Saddle Creek golf course in Copperopolis.

Water pollution laws and water conservation laws can make golf course irrigation complicated in California. Where possible, state law encourages golf courses to make use of so-called “recycled” water.

In the case of La Contenta Golf Course, recycled water is available from CCWD’s nearby La Contenta sewage treatment plant. CCWD and the golf course have had agreements since 1991 to make use of treated wastewater for irrigating the golf course.

That irrigation solves a headache for CCWD. Under state water pollution laws, it is difficult to get permits to allow treated wastewater to flow into creeks or rivers. State law seeks to protect surface water supplies from the salts and the trace amounts of chemicals that tend to be present in treated wastewater. State regulators also watch to make sure that treated wastewater does not contaminate groundwater supplies.

State water pollution regulators can levy large fines if a water agency like CCWD allows treated wastewater storage ponds to overflow into creeks, something that typically is only likely to happen during heavy winter rains.

State water law also, in the past, barred the storage of treated wastewater in ponds on golf courses.

That was a problem for La Contenta. Golf course operators said the amount of treated wastewater capable of passing through the 8-inch pipe there was not enough to run their irrigation systems. To solve the problem, the golf course stored raw water from New Hogan in ponds and blended the treated wastewater with the raw lake water.

Back in 2011, however, CCWD said La Contenta wasn’t using enough of the treated wastewater, thus jeopardizing public health and putting the district at risk of fines if its ponds overflowed.

A new general irrigation order issued by the State Water Resources Control Board in 2009 made it possible to solve that problem. And in 2012, CCWD and La Content became among the first agencies in the state to get a permit under that program.

Basically, the permit allows much more flexibility in how irrigation happens as long as the agencies involved make their best effort to use as much recycled water as possible. And the permit allows the storage of treated wastewater in a pond at the golf course – thus making it possible for golf course operators to accumulate enough wastewater to accommodate the higher flow rates required during the periods while irrigation systems are actually operating.

The permit describes in detail how the raw water from Hogan is used primarily on certain particularly sensitive parts of the course, such as the greens, and how it is used to dilute the saltier wastewater elsewhere.

Apparently the new system put in place at the end of 2012 is working. CCWD officials report that since then, the golf course has succeeded in disposing all the wastewater produced by the nearby sewage plant.

Greener greens have also translated into more greenbacks for La Contenta, according to court documents. The same statement filed in October said that “in 2013 (now that the golf course is somewhat back to normal), we have had a significant increase in new golfers, which is increasing revenue by at least $5,000 per month, which could have occurred through 2011 and 2012 but for the condition of the golf course.”

Marty Davis, the director of golf for La Contenta, declined to discuss the lawsuit. But both he and CCWD spokesman Joel Metzger confirmed that the golf course has complied with state rules imposed this year requiring golf courses to cut back on water use during the drought.

And Davis, like Perley and Metzger, was upbeat about the future.

“At this point, everything is good and we are looking forward to a long relationship that lasts forever,” Davis said.

​​Contact Dana M. Nichols at dana@calaverasenterprise.com or call 498-2052.

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