Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge Timothy Volkmann on Friday ruled to appoint a public receiver for embattled private utility Big Basin Water Company (BBWC).
This is the latest development in years-long efforts to get the company to comply with state water regulations. The ruling comes as a relief to the roughly 1,200 customers who have been struggling to get safe, reliable drinking water for roughly three years
Judge Volkmann upheld his tentative ruling at a hearing on Sep. 29 and granted the State Water Resources Control Board their request to have a public receiver appointed to manage BBWC.
“The Court does not see any other viable remedy besides receivership. Finally, to prevent irreparable injury to customers, the situation needs to be addressed with immediacy,” Volkmann said in the ruling.
A receiver is a court-appointed official charged with handling a company’s finances and operations. For BBWC, a public receivership is also intended to bring it back into compliance with state water regulations.
The state water board filed a lawsuit in July 2023 against BBWC owners Thomas J.Moore and Shirley Moore after years of alleged mismanagement. The company runs sewer and drinking water services for its customers in the Big Basin area. Numerous violations by both aspects of the utility’s service prompted the water board to bring BBWC into compliance starting in 2019.
The CZU Complex Fires of 2020 severely damaged BBWC infrastructure and compromised its service capacity. Since then, customers have suffered water outages, boil notices and lack of sewer service from an inoperable wastewater treatment plant. According to the company, fixing the drinking water infrastructure alone would cost about $2.8 million.
This mire culminated with state regulators opting to pursue a public receivership in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.
At the time of the ruling, the Moores had entered into an agreement with Central States Water Resources (CSWR), a private, Missouri-based utility company, to take over operations pending a sale. Now, Silver & Wright LLP, the court-appointed receiver, is expected to take over operations, according to Volkmann’s ruling.
“I think having someone in charge of the system who is not selling it or interested in buying it is a good thing,” said Shandra Hunt, a BBWC customer. “The receiver is required to report to the judge at specific timelines, so there is oversight throughout the process.”
The ruling will be finalized sometime next week and will take effect immediately after, giving the receiver control over BBWC.
Damian Moore, son of Thomas J. Moore and former operations manager for the company, declined a request for comment.