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A battle on the water is coming to an end


Almost five years ago, we told you the story of a small town an hour south of the Oregon border that was battling with a large logging company over who owned the rights to a spring. immaculate gurgling in the shadow of Mount Shasta, the majestic snow-capped dormant volcano.

After $ 1.5 million in legal fees and countless hours of debate and activism, the city council of that city of Weed, Calif., Recently approved an agreement guaranteeing the use of water in perpetuity. It was a David-over-Goliath victory for Weed, population of 2,700. And it was a particularly sweet moment for a small group of residents whose political views ranged from left to right, but who put these differences aside in their collective struggle to reclaim what they believed was the rightful ownership of water. source of the city. have been introduced into the homes of Weed for over a century.

“It has been a long and difficult campaign,” said Bruce Shoemaker, one of the residents who helped found Water for Citizens of Weed, Calif., The group that fought to reclaim the city’s rights to the land. source.

“We didn’t have a tradition of community activism until this happened. And there was a lot of chance that this small town would face big corporate monsters, ”said Mr. Shoemaker.

“It never would have happened if the people hadn’t stood up.”

The costs of the battle, both in money and time, are a reminder of how precious and contested water can be in California, a timely parable for a state now relapsing into drought.

The city’s $ 1.5 million in legal fees equates to more than $ 500 per capita in a city with a median household income of $ 31,000, according to city manager Jim Rundel, who helped with the conclusion of the water agreement. California’s median household income, at $ 75,000, is more than double that of the city.

The legal battle has also taken its toll on locals who became involved. In 2017, after residents filed a complaint with state agencies claiming the city’s right to water, the logging company claiming rights to the spring, Roseburg Forest Products, individually sued the city, Water. for Citizens of Weed and its nine members.

With the help of pro bono attorneys, residents argued that the Roseburg trial was a bullying tactic, a strategic trial against public participation, or a SLAPP trial. A judge ruled in favor of the residents and an appeal by the logging company was ultimately dropped.

A separate lawsuit for a prominent area of ​​the city was underway when the water deal came into being.

The deal is a tripartite deal between the city, Roseburg and Crystal Geyser Roxane, a company that bottles mineral water from the spring. Crystal Geyser agreed to buy the rights to the source in Roseburg and then sell partial rights to the city for $ 1.2 million.

Mr Shoemaker admits residents would have preferred free access to water – for decades the city was paying a token dollar a year for water before Roseburg made its demands in 2016, which sparked the cascade of legal disputes.

“Life is sometimes a compromise,” said Mr. Shoemaker. “It’s not a perfect win, but it’s still a win.”

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from UC Berkeley, and has reported statewide, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles – but she always wants to see more. Follow here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UC Berkeley.

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