A Southern California law firm, Silver & Wright LLP, has been appointed to assume possession and control of Big Basin Water Co. following the Santa Cruz County Superior Court’s approval of a receivership request by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The privately owned drinking water system in the Santa Cruz Mountains previously operated by Big Basin Water Co. has allegedly been plagued by water outages, chronic supply shortfalls and substandard infrastructure, the State Water Board said in a news release.
Santa Cruz County Judge Timothy Volkmann signed the final order appointing Silver & Wright LLP as receiver on Oct. 6. The order applies only to the company’s drinking water system, which has 540 connections serving about 1,200 people.
The management and operation of the company’s wastewater treatment plant are still the responsibility of its longtime owners, Thomas and Shirley Moore, the State Water Board said.
Earlier this year, the Moores agreed to sell the company to Central States Water Resources, a privately-owned company in Missouri.
The prospective buyer must work with the receiver and clear several regulatory hurdles before any sale can be finalized, including obtaining a permit from the division to ensure it is equipped to run a drinking water system. The receivership can only be terminated by a court decision, the State Water Board said.
The agency’s Division of Drinking Water sought receivership after the Moores demonstrated they were “unwilling or unable to pursue solutions” for ongoing problems in the company’s drinking water system.
Since 2019, the division has issued 11 enforcement actions to Big Basin Water Co. for a variety of alleged violations, including failure to comply with cross connection control requirements, failure to sustain sufficient source capacity, and failure to make necessary improvements to water tanks and other infrastructure.
“While years of neglect and mismanagement cannot be turned around overnight, having a receiver in place means the lines of communication are open and that the operation of Big Basin Water is no longer at a standstill,” Jonathan Weininger, a senior engineer with the division, said in a statement Thursday. “We now have a partner with whom we can make progress toward the long-term drinking water solutions this community deserves.”
According to the State Water Board, Big Basin’s drinking water customers have experienced repeated water outages over the past few years, with many currently under precautionary boil water notices due to system-wide low system pressure brought about by critically low tank levels.
Many customers travel to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District’s fill station in Boulder Creek to obtain water for their homes, the agency added.
While Silver & Wright LLP is to take possession and control of the drinking water system, the firm is an agent of the court and needs its approval to make key decisions, such as securing funding and upgrading equipment.