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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The expected annexation of San Juan Capistrano’s water utility system into the Santa Margarita Water District moved one step closer to completion, in the wake of the city council approving a water rights transfer agreement with SMWD during a council meeting on Tuesday, April 20.

Councilmembers approved the annexation agreement in January 2020, and SMWD submitted its application for annexation in December to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission. The annexation will become official when the agreement is approved by LAFCO, which could happen this summer.

The annexation directed the city and SMWD to negotiate a water rights transfer agreement, which transfers the city’s rights to produce water from the San Juan Basin to SMWD so the water district can use those rights to provide water to the city and its customers.

Under the transfer agreement, SMWD will “exercise reasonable best efforts to protect and maintain the city’s water rights, to the benefit of the city and its existing and future customers.”

The city can continue to exercise water rights appurtenant to the Eastern Open Space and Christmas tree farm properties, both owned by the city. Water quality upgrades costing millions of dollars are planned for the Eastern Open Space, as a result of a 2017 lawsuit from Orange County Coastkeeper alleging that Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park had contributed to pollution in San Juan Creek—claims denied by the city and the park’s operator, Blenheim Facility Management.

Mayor Pro Tem Derek Reeve thanked everyone involved, including city staff, for their work involved with the transfer agreement.

“I was sitting here, remembering this all started back in 2015, and it just takes a really long time to get where we’re at, and we’re so close,” Reeve said.

Mayor John Taylor called the water rights “a very, very complex issue.”

“It’s a long time coming, and it’s going to be great for San Juan Capistrano,” Taylor said.

Earlier this year, when speaking to The Capistrano Dispatch about the annexation, Taylor said SMWD has “much better finances and a stronger organization” for dealing with water supply. SMWD has built the Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir—which officially opened last year—on land acquired from Rancho Mission Viejo. The reservoir stores recycled water and is expected to benefit SMWD customers and South Orange County residents.

The City of San Juan Capistrano has signed off a water rights agreement with Santa Margarita Water District, in anticipation of the coming utility annexation into SMWD. SMWD built the Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir in South Orange County, shown here, to store recycled water. Photo: Collin Breaux.

In other news from the city council meeting, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s office formally presented a recognition of San Juan Capistrano’s 60th anniversary. The city officially declared incorporation on April 19, 1961. Sergio Prince, on behalf of Bartlett’s office, announced the recognition.

Sergio Prince, on behalf of Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, presented a recognition to the City of San Juan Capistrano in honor of the town’s 60th anniversary of incorporation. Photo: Collin Breaux.

Fiesta Association President Jim Taylor also gave the council an update on its organization, which organizes the annual Swallows Day Parade and related events.

The Fiesta Association is financially set for 2022, though Taylor is spending this year fundraising for 2023.

The Swallows Day Parade did not occur in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is not expected to happen this year, either. The Fiesta Association did hold a scaled-down Fiesta Grande at Swallow’s Inn after the council meeting, and hosted a similarly smaller version of Hoos’Gow Day downtown on March 19.

Taylor presented Taylor and Bourne—who was mayor last year—ceremonial belt buckles. Taylor also presented the city a collection of pictures of all parade grand marshals past and present, in honor of the 60th anniversary.

Fiesta Association President Jim Taylor (left) presented the City of San Juan Capistrano a collection of pictures of all parade grand marshals past and present, in honor of the town’s 60th anniversary of incorporation. Mayor John Taylor (right) displayed the collection. Photo: Collin Breaux.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at

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