Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a media event in San Francisco.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office aims to put Big Basin Water Company into receivership in a new lawsuit.
(Martin do Nascimento / CalMatters)
Civic Life

After years of problems, state looks to put Boulder Creek water utility into different hands

In a lawsuit filed last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said it has lost confidence in the owners of Big Basin Water Company and wants to put the private utility into receivership until it can figure out its finances and provide adequate service to its customers.

As a private water utility for Boulder Creek residents, Big Basin Water Company has been falling short for years.

Years of intermittent water outages and deferred maintenance evolved into crises for the utility after the 2020 CZU fire, as Big Basin Water didn’t have the money to fix its damaged infrastructure. Owners Shirley and Thomas James Moore have been public over the years with their desire to sell the utility, but the market for an embattled private water utility with piling maintenance projects has, largely, been dry.

This winter’s storms put Big Basin Water and its customers in dire straits, as Thomas Chotia, a customer since 1989, testified in court documents submitted last week as part of a new lawsuit levied against Big Basin Water by the State of California. The state said it has lost confidence in the Moores to operate the utility, and now looks to put the utility in different hands until it can figure out its finances and provide adequate service to its customers.

Chotia said he had no water from Dec. 31, 2022, to Jan. 20, 2023, and because of road closures, the only way to get water was to drive 17 miles through Big Basin Redwoods State Park to reach a grocery store.

“I waited for two weeks for the Moores to repair the damage, but no one ever came out during this period,” Chotia wrote in his testimony. “I contacted the Moores and asked when they would be coming out, and the person I spoke to said that they didn’t have the funds to fix the main and hung up on me.”

The lawsuit, filed last week by California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office on behalf of the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, seeks to put Big Basin Water in a receivership which operates like a conservatorship for businesses. If the court determines Big Basin Water should go into receivership, the Moores will remain the owners but will lose control over all business and financial decisions. The court will appoint a receiver for the business, just as it appoints a conservator for individuals, and empower them with the discretion to unilaterally make all business decisions for the utility.

In its lawsuit, Bonta’s office nominated Irvine-based law firm Silver & Wright LLP to take over as receiver for Big Basin Water. The lawsuit is only an early step in this legal process.

Representatives of Big Basin Water were unavailable for comment ahead of publication of this story, but company representatives have previously publicly said that they’d prefer an industry professional, rather than a law firm, to become the receiver.

Resident Samuel Singer, who recently purchased a plot in Boulder Creek’s Fallen Leaf neighborhood, where the state has issued a permit moratorium because of the utility’s inability to serve its customers, said he fears the legal process will take years before meaningful progress is made.

“There is not a short-term fix, but there needs to be a short-term plan to get people back in their home,” Singer said. “But we’re making no progress.”

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