The development side has won one in the ongoing fight over water availability in the Santa Clarita Valley, California's hot-spot for litigation regarding water and planning.

Let me explain: In October, the Second District Court of Appeal issued a ruling for Los Angeles County in a suit filed by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE) over Newhall Land and Farming Company's proposed 2,500-unit West Creek project. The environmental group contended the environmental impact report for the project was inadequate. The court ruled otherwise.

As soon as we ran a story about the ruling, the Second District withdrew its decision and ordered a new hearing.

"Ah-ha," said the environmentalists' lawyers. "The court recognizes it got it wrong."

"Pssshhhht," said the developer's lawyer. "The only issue is semantics." (The entire saga and more links are in November's CP&DR Legal Digest.)

Turns out the developer's lawyer was right. The new opinion issued on November 26 contains updated references to a state Supreme Court ruling in a water and planning case issued early this year, but the bottom line is the same: The EIR is adequate.

I'm not about to pass judgment on the court's verdict. But there are some interesting factors that the court didn't get to consider.

One of SCOPE's big concerns regarding West Creek and other projects in the Santa Clarita Valley is whether Castaic Lake Water Agency and developers should be able to rely on water from the State Water Project (SWP). The West Creek EIR assumes that 41,000 acre-feet of SWP water (enough for about 80,000 homes) will be available via a transfer from Kern County farmers.

On the same day that the Second District issued its new ruling, the Department of Water Resources announced it expects to provide only 25% of SWP allocations next year because of ongoing dry conditions. In addition, there is great uncertainty regarding future deliveries of water from the Bay Delta because of the impacts of water diversions on rare fish species.

At the same time, DWR is conducting hearings around the state on how the department operates the State Water Project. (Learn more on the DWR website: Among the changes DWR is considering is a weakening of safeguards for urban areas during droughts.

And, of course, the governor and state lawmakers continue to talk about putting some sort of water bond on the 2008 ballot. But how much money, and what it might provide, remain extremely uncertain.

And that's the real bottom line with regard to all water and planning issues these days: Uncertainty.

- Paul Shigley