Water district, in settlement with FAC, agrees to disclose water usage by corporations

A Southern California water district, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the First Amendment Coalition, has agreed to tell the public how much water each of its corporate customers is pumping from underground aquifers.

The Desert Water Agency in Palm Springs had published this information in past years, but changed policy in 2013, ostensibly to protect the “privacy interests” of its corporate customers. The water district relied on section 6254.16 of the CPRA, which exempts release of “the name, credit history, utility usage data, home address, or telephone number of utility customers of local agencies . . .” FAC, in its lawsuit, argued that this exemption is limited to residential customers, while information about  corporate customers must be made public.

“We’re very pleased that the Desert Water Agency, reversing course, has agreed to disclose  information that is so obviously a matter of public interest, especially during a severe drought,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director.

In the settlement agreement with FAC, the Desert Water Agency not only agreed to release the specific records that FAC had requested, but to change its policy so that the same company-specific water pumping  data will continue to be made public in the future. The district, in a press statement,  said it would do this  on its website.

“The litigation filed by the First Amendment Coalition raised a complex issue – the need to carefully weigh customer privacy alongside the Agency’s response to requests for additional consumption information during this record drought,” the press statement said.

FAC’s lawsuit was filed in August against two water districts,  Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District. Although the settlement ends the lawsuit against the former, the litigation against Coachella is continuing.

The settlement with Desert Water Agency also provides for the district’s payment of FAC’s legal fees and costs totaling $11,000. FAC is represented in the water suits by Kevin Vick and Jean-Paul Jassy at the Jassy Vick Carolan law firm in Los Angeles. -PS

Links to documents:

settlement agreement

FAC’s legal complaint initiating the suit in Riverside Superior Court