man pulling carrots from field
(Photo: Alicja Neumiler /

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

In 2021, Grimmway and Bolthouse Farms jointly filed a groundwater adjudication in the Cuyama Basin, sparking backlash from local landowners and resulting in a carrot boycott. Both entities dropped from the adjudication, leaving four separate entities as the plaintiffs — Bolthouse Land Company, Diamond Farming Company, Lapis Land Company, and Ruby Land Company.

In October, Grimmway Farms shared a statement with the LA Times, stating that the adjudication has compromised the goodwill and cooperation of the corporation’s involvement in Cuyama Valley.

“To that end, Grimmway Farms has decided to end its participation in the adjudication and filed a request with the court earlier this month to withdraw as a plaintiff in this case. Moving forward, we feel it more appropriate for the landowners to continue this discussion,” the statement said. “Our relationships with the residents of Cuyama are more important and valuable to us than this court case. We hope that all parties can work cooperatively going forward to achieve fairness, balance, and alignment as we address these critical water issues for all who live, work, and farm in this region.”

According to Daniel Clifford, vice president and general counsel for Bolthouse Land Company, there has been a misconception of the water rights adjudication since its initial filing.

“It is true that the complaint that was filed has water users and landowners in the Basin designated as ‘defendants’; however, a water rights adjudication is different from a typical lawsuit where you have plaintiffs and defendants who are truly averse to each other,” Clifford said in an email. “Here, all water users in the basin must be named as a party to the adjudication so that they can establish their right to pump groundwater.”

Despite the two private farming companies’ withdrawal from the adjudication, Cuyama Valley landowners have doubled efforts to boycott carrots. According to Ella Boyajian, a local landowner, residents within the advocacy group Stand With Cuyama believe the private entities should utilize their influence to pressure the remaining plaintiffs to drop the lawsuit completely.

“The Cuyama community is responding to Grimmway and Bolthouse dropping from the groundwater adjudication — while they profess support for our community and commitment to sustainability as their reasons for dismissing, we feel this move is only a legal strategy or PR tactic,” Boyajian said in an email. “We remain resolute, and we are encouraging folks to join our carrot boycott by going carrot-free this Thanksgiving.”

In a prior interview, Boyajian explained that the carrot boycott, in its early phases, began to educate the community on the adjudication process and how their water rights may be affected.

“We are not trying to get rid of anybody in the Valley. You know, we wanna be neighbors,” Boyajian said. “But I think we felt a need to take this measure of a boycott against carrots because it felt like they turned their backs on this community process by filing the adjudication.”


The adjudication filing came shortly after a mandatory 5% pumping reduction went into effect in 2021. According to Clifford, the primary function of the adjudication was to establish a legally enforceable water allocation for groundwater users to bring the Cuyama Basin into sustainability alongside existing California law.

“An adjudication is a collaborative process that will require the parties to meet and hopefully negotiate a solution that is acceptable to each of the groundwater users and the court,” Clifford said in an email.

Clifford noted that the court requires all water users to be included in an adjudication for accurate and sustainable allocation. Water use for single-family residences, considered minimis users with less than one acre-foot per year, will not be cut back.

However, in a prior interview, Das Williams, the first district supervisor for the county of Santa Barbara, explained that the adjudication placed a hardship on the majority of Cuyama Valley residents and instigated a small farmer versus large farmer battle.

“It’s really sad and, you know, I think the most evidence of that is that Bolthouse and Grimmway seem to be including the minimis users in the calculation. And that they are forcing people who really can’t afford to retain attorneys to defend their water rights,” Williams said.

Boyajian explained that the adjudication filing took many residents by surprise, as it came on the heels of the Cuyama Basin’s state-approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan required through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

She noted that the Cuyama community created a committee to draft an almost 1,600-page GSP wherein Bolthouse and Grimmway had representation. According to Boyajian, residents were hopeful that the GSP would avoid an adjudication altogether.

“The hope of SGMA was that communities could create these GSPs and avoid adjudication because there are so many inherent inequities with adjudication. So, what was really shocking to our community is that we had this plan that was submitted to the state for approval two times. It was held for a vote, and the committee with representatives from Grimmway and Bolthouse voted to pass the plan,” Boyajian said. “And while the state was reviewing it and, you know, giving some feedback…They shocked everybody and filed this adjudication complaint.”

Bolthouse Land Company also had a representative on the GSA board who voted to approve the plan with an understanding that the board would receive information evaluating the entire basin to implement proper pumping reductions, Clifford explained.

“Currently, the pumpers with land located [in] one area of the Basin in the Central Management Area are the only pumpers that are being cut back. This temporary arrangement is not consistent with California law as it does not require any other landowner in the Basin to reduce their pumping,” Clifford said. “Scientists who have evaluated the hydrology and geology of the Basin have concluded that it will never reach sustainability so long as the reductions are not Basin-wide.”

According to Clifford, Bolthouse Land Company was transparent about the adjudication process and held various voluntary outreach meetings with known groundwater users in the basin prior to the adjudication.

“The purpose of the meetings was to educate groundwater users concerning the adjudication process so that they would know what to expect. BLC representatives were on hand to respond to questions from groundwater users,” Clifford said.

Williams explained that he was informed of the adjudication a few days before it was filed.

“It was a big disappointment. It was not a surprise,” Williams said.

Through an adjudication, the court and an appointed watermaster determine the groundwater rights in the basin as well as who the water rights owners are, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

“The water expert is required to help them determine historical use because in an adjudication typically, a judge, a court will determine who gets what or whose right is to what based on historical use,” Boyajian said. “So, you have a system where Grimmway and Bolthouse, who have been the biggest perpetrators of overdraft in the basin, they can also claim the most historic use…these large, big pumpers tend to benefit in an adjudication.”

The initial goal of the GSP for the basin was to implement a glide path, that is, a gradual approach to implementing SGMA to provide water users time to adjust and prevent disruptions in the regional economy.

“There [are] two reasons why I advocated for a beginning of the cuts in our allocations. One is because if you spread the cuts over a larger number of years, they’re less severe,” Williams said. “But another reason was, you know, Bolthouse and Grimmway were proposing to delay that for a long time, and I believed that they were going to ask for adjudication anyway. And so having the cuts now, I suppose, may have precipitated them filing for adjudication earlier rather than later.”

Clifford explained that the adjudication process initiated by Bolthouse Land Company and others is not a new process, as 26 basins have adjudicated areas wherein a court determined the groundwater rights of all users.

“The adjudication does not seek to determine rights to municipal water service between any municipal water service provider and their retail water service customers. BLC, as a good steward of the land, understands that the amount of water used in the Basin must be reduced,” Clifford said. “BLC is not interested in ‘pumping the Basin dry’ as that [is] completely contrary to being a responsible landowner. BLC intends to remain a corporate citizen in the Basin for many decades to come, and intentionally destroying the aquifer is at odds with that reality.”

The adjudication remains ongoing, and a non-jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2024. The Cuyama Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency filed a Notice of Intervention on Nov. 13 to become an official defendant in the case.

Disclaimer: Bolthouse Land Company is an unrelated third-party company under separate and unrelated ownership from that of Bolthouse Farms. The remaining plaintiffs in the Cuyama Basin adjudication are separate entities from Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms.

Previous articleClimate Change Initiatives Alter Dairy Industry Forefront
Next articleCommentary: A flood of specialty-crop imports hurts U.S. farmers