Water district vies for control of wells

Coastside water supplier Montara Water and Sanitary District wants to use eminent domain to seize three county-owned wells in an effort to end years of fruitless negotiations, according to district officials.

An estimated 55,000 residents on the mid-coast between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica depend on the three wells for 60 percent of their drinking water, said George Irving, water district manager. San Mateo County has leased the wells to the district, or its predecessors, for 43 years, but a three-year attempt to negotiate lower water rates and more recent attempts to purchase the wells have only resulted in frustration, district officials said.

The district’s governing board voted unanimously late last month to move ahead with its eminent domain claim, two weeks after it offered the county $5,000 to buy the 1,600 square feet of property the wells sit on at the Half Moon Bay Airport, said Scott Boyd, Montara Water and Sanitary District board director.

Stalled rate negotiations and the refusal by the county to sell the wells led to the decision to move ahead with the eminent domain claim — which could pit public uses from the airport against the water district, Irving said.

“We’ve been talking to the county now for years about a long-term lease or purchasing the property, so this is more a culmination of a lack of progress on their part than quick action on our part,” Boyd said.

The state Department of Health Services has demanded the district build a permanent water treatment facility for the wells, two of which require treatment for their toxic levels of nitrates, Boyd said. But in order to qualify for state loans to build the $450,000 facility, the district must show it owns or has long-term use of the land, officials said.

“Our efforts to respond to DHS are being stymied by the county,” Boyd said.

The county on the other hand points to its agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, saying it limits none airport use on the property that can’t be revoked when needed.

“I think the concern is that while the wells may not be in the way of anything right now, we don’t know what the demand is going to be in the future,” Assistant County Counsel Michael Murphy said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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