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Truce Called in Feud between Water Districts

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A nearly three-year long feud between two water districts in Los Angeles, California, has reached a ceasefire. For some time, the Central Basin Water District, a water wholesaler, had refused to sell water to its rival, the Water Replenishment District (WRD), which manages an underground storage basin in Southeast Los Angeles County.

Central Basin and the WRD each spent about $2.4 million in their water war. Central Basin sent state legislators and lobbyists after its rivals, in one case paying a consultant to create promotional online stories under the names, bios and photos of reporters who did not exist. The WRD, on the other hand, bought up domain names, such as "centralbasin.net," and used them to post stories critical of its rival.

But new developments at Central Basin appear to be changing the relationship between these two camps. Over the past year, the water district has faced several scandals and has seen some of its top leaders depart. Recently, former Assemblyman Thomas Calderon—a onetime consultant for the agency—was charged as part of a major federal corruption case, along with his brother Senator Ron Calderon.

Though these charges are not related to Central Basin, the FBI obtained boxes of records from Central Basin’s offices last year and is continuing to investigate. In addition, Thomas Calderon was widely seen as a field marshal in Central Basin's protracted battles with the WRD.

The scandals and investigations have left Central Basin humbled, and willing to help out their former enemy. Just this month, they have agreed to sell 60,000 acre-feet of water to the WRD. Water experts say the sale represents a major boost to the local underground basin. It comes as the drought is forcing local agencies to rely more on the basin for water.

Both sides now agree that the conflict did far more harm than good. Albert Robles, a WRD board member, said southeast L.A.'s water situation would have been significantly more secure if not for the feud.

"Had it not been for the war," he said, "we would literally be laughing at today's drought."

 
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