The City Council of Weed has had a goal to obtain ownership of reliable, high quality water to provide for the needs of our citizens.
The first step in a long process to secure ownership of our water resources was to enter into a lease extension for Beaughan Springs. We accomplished this in 2016. We viewed this as our first step because we needed time to look at alternatives and determine how best to proceed. Our second step was to obtain a planning grant from the State Water Resources Control Board to look at alternative sources. We obtained this planning grant in November of 2017.
While working on obtaining the planning grant and prior to receiving it, a group of well-respected citizens of our community approached the council. The son of a former officer of International Paper and Roseburg Forest Products had found a number of papers from his father’s files in his garage. Among them was a letter from the Shasta River Watermaster to International Paper in 1982, which recorded a conversation between the parties. The letter appears to memorialize discussions concerning transfers of International Paper water rights in the context of the impending sale of the lumber mill to Roseburg. Among other things, the letter indicates that International Paper told the Watermaster that the company intended to gift the historic Beaughan Springs water rights to the city.
Prior to discussing the meaning and implication of the 1982 letter with the Watermaster District, these citizens asked the City of Weed to support their contention that the letter was enough documentation to transfer ownership of the Beaughan Springs rights to the city. In response, the city council adopted Resolution No. 10-2017 in May of 2017 supporting the request of the citizens and seeking answers from the Watermaster. Literally the next day, Roseburg Forest Products sued the City of Weed seeking to quiet title to the Beaughan Springs water rights.
Generally, cities do not sue major employers within their community. Cities seek to find compromise and to resolve differences of opinion by negotiation. It is unlikely that the city would have sued Roseburg. But cities do defend themselves when sued.
A number of public meetings have been held in the intervening two years since Roseburg filed its action against the city and the nine citizens who exercised their rights, as citizens, to organize and petition their government for redress from what they saw as a wrong. Their point was that this water right, long relied upon by the city for municipal water service, belongs to the residents of Weed. It has been the primary water source for the city for over 100 years. It was adjudicated in 1932 for municipal purposes. Although in 1932, since we were a company town and not an incorporated city, ownership was vested in the company, the citizens group believed by law and ethics this water should be owned by the community.
As a democratic government, the city had a duty to fully investigate whether it could be proved that the city had ownership to this water right. The city used the litigation discovery process to conduct an exhaustive search for records trying to prove the city owned the water rights.
The city has searched the files of Roseburg, International Paper, the Department of Water Resources, and the Shasta and Scotts Valley Watermaster District. The city did not find any document, signed by International Paper that would support a conveyance of the Beaughan Springs water right to the city. Personally, I believe that International Paper had the intent to gift the water rights to the city but did not prepare or file a deed to accomplish this. Essentially Roseburg claims it bargained for and acquired the Beaughan Springs rights. Many of the documents at the time of Roseburg’s purchase appear to agree with this interpretation, but Roseburg’s position is not crystal clear in these documents.
There was some possibility of the city winning the lawsuit, not by showing ownership, but by establishing a principle of equity – essentially claiming it wouldn’t be fair at this late date to change the use of the water. Based on the available evidence, this was an unlikely outcome.
Thus, the city has chosen to discontinue challenging Roseburg’s ownership, and the Siskiyou Superior Court recently approved a stipulated judgement that clearly establishes Roseburg as owner of the Beaughan Springs rights. Now the city council will seek to acquire the water rights from Roseburg by negotiation or via the power of eminent domain.
The planning process the city has completed under the grant received from the State Water Resources Control Board has produced convincing evidence that Beaughan Springs is the best source of water available to the city. The water from Beaughan Springs is reliable, having served us for over 100 years. The water is of high quality and does not need to be treated. In addition, the infrastructure to bring that water to the city is already in place. To develop a new source of water would likely cost as much as the acquisition of the Beaughan Springs water right and to build infrastructure to a new source could be cost prohibitive.