Your Tax Dollars At Work — Small, Man-Made Lake in Granite Bay Violates California’s Constitution, Water Board Staff Says
A hearing of the State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled for Monday, February 1, on the claims of two homeowners in Placer County’s upscale Granite Bay that the leaking of one of the man-made lakes in their subdivision is a misuse of water and violates the state constitution.
The hearing caps an investigation by the state dating back to April 2005 when Tony and Donna Wood and their neighbors, Ted and Cheri Allegra, filed a water right complaint against the Hidden Lake Estates Homeowners Association, documents at the water board’s website show.
The two couples allege that water seepage from the northern of two man-made, one acre lakes in their housing tract represents “waste or unreasonable use of water,” a violation of Article X, Section 2 of California’s constitution.
“I have been forced to replace my entire backyard landscaping, some of it more than once,” Tony Wood declared in a May 2005 affidavit. “The chronic soil saturation has also killed heritage oaks and other mature trees on my property.”
Nor can his children play on the lawn because it is always “wet and soggy,” Wood said. And if they do play on it, they become wet and muddy, Wood said.
“(The lawn’s) slippery condition makes it unsafe for the type of play that is characteristic of five year old kids.”
Wood said he has spent more than $100,000 on consultants, engineers, laboratories, landscaping and other improvements to deal with the problems caused by the leaking lake.
Allegra testified that he was warned by a contractor against draining his pool to resurface it. Allegra testified the contractor said the “hydrostatic pressure” caused by water accumulated beneath the pool might cause it to “pop out of the ground.”
A condition, Allegra said, that makes it “more burdensome and expensive to maintain the pool.”
Allegra also complained of water seeping through cracks in his back patio and front driveway as well as the street in front of his house. The leaking lake caused the value of his house to fall $80,000, he said.
After conducting its investigation, state water board staff agreed with Wood and Allegra that the homeowners association was violating the constitutional prohibition on misuse of water and that the seepage “has caused and is causing damage” to Wood and Allegra’s residences.
In its initial answer to Wood and Allegra’s complaint, the homeowners association denied that the lakes had been leaking severely and insisted that no damage had been done to the two homes abutting it.
However, Allegra and Wood examined homeowners association board meeting minutes and found that in 1990 the board was told there was a lake leakage problem. The same year, the board’s president said in the association’s newsletter that “the community is now faced with the need to seal the lake bottoms to reduce seepage.” In July 2001, the association received an estimate for installing a pond liner on the north lake, Wood and Allegra discovered.
After buying their homes in 2002, Wood and Allegra complained at a 2003 board of directors meeting of the “muddy, marsh-like and water saturated” conditions at the back of their property.
The board denied the lake was leaking, Wood said in his affidavit.
Wood and Allegra then sued the homeowners association. The association, in turn, hired a “geotechnical consultant” to assess the lake leakage.
The consultant concluded that about 2 acre-feet of water leaked annually from the berm around the lake, a problem that could be largely solved by lining the bottom.
An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons – roughly the amount of water a family of four uses in one year. California gets 4.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River annually.
In July 2006, water board staff concluded there was “substantial evidence” water was indeed seeping from the lake onto the Wood and Allegra properties.
One month later, the lawyer for the homeowners association responded that more testing was needed to conclusively show the water came from the lake.
One month after that, the water board told the association it had until January 2007 to conduct its studies.
Two studies were commissioned by the association. Both confirmed that, indeed, the lake was leaking. The second of the two studies was issued in May 2007.
Ten months later, in March 2008, state water board staff concluded that the studies show where most of the lake’s leakage is occurring and that the lake’s “dam was not constructed properly.”
The water board said no hearing would be needed if the association emptied the lake and presented a “remedial action plan” to prevent future water misuse.
One month later, the association said there isn’t an unreasonable amount of seepage from the lake and, therefore, no misuse of water.
In a May 2008 letter, the water board repeated what it said before: Misuse of water is occurring at Hidden Lakes. The board said the association was free to present any evidence to the contrary it wished at a future public hearing.
A response from the association came in June. The water board replied to that letter in July saying nothing had changed since its previous March and May letters.
Eighteen months later – December 2009 – the association’s lawyer asked the water board staff to reconsider and dismiss the complaint. Nothing in the lawyer’s letter changed the minds of the board’s staff.
The February 1 hearing will be presided over by one of the five members of the state water board. A staff lawyer and two board engineers will assist.
There is also a three person “prosecutorial team” comprised of a water board lawyer, engineer and geologist.
Seven paper copies or five paper copies and one electronic copy of all written testimony and other exhibits must be submitted. The prosecution team has 26 exhibits, the Allegras have 17. The homeowners association has 46. All are logged on the board’s webpage.
The two binders containing the findings of the board staff’s Hidden Lakes investigation are each five inches thick.
Filed under: State Agencies
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