Calistoga City Hall

Calistoga City Hall is located at 1232 Washington St.

A multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against Calistoga over water rights has been dismissed on appeal.

The California Court of Appeal on April 29 rejected Debbie R. O’Gorman’s $10 million lawsuit against the city, city officials said in a statement.

O’Gorman sued the city in 2014 alleging that she had inherited the exclusive right to use water in Kimball Reservoir, and that the city’s use of water from the reservoir was a violation of those rights. In 2017, the Napa Superior Court rejected O’Gorman’s claims. She then appealed.

The ruling is one of many in the continuation of a decade-long legal battle between O’Gorman and the city.

Her first lawsuit, in 2008, claimed that the city wasn’t following a municipal water supply agreement with her family – the Tubbs family. O’Gorman’s grandfather had sold the water rights at issue to the city in 1939 for use of water from Kimball Reservoir.

The suit was dismissed when a judge ruled that the 1939 agreement did not transfer to the descendants, and too much time had expired to make such a claim.

Grant Reynolds, an environmental advocate and longtime friend of O’Gorman’s husband, Matt Hickerson, then bought the claim and added additional claims that the city took more water than it was allowed under state permits, harming fish populations downstream.

A judge later dismissed that claim.

Calistoga officials, did, however, agree to bypass more water around the dam to protect fish populations. Although the city argued that its decision was voluntary, and not a direct response to Reynold’s lawsuit, a judge eventually ordered the city to pay more than $500,000 in legal fees to Reynold’s lawyer.

Reynolds later filed a similar claim with the City of St. Helena saying the city failed to meet its bypass requirements to protect fish habitat downstream of Bell Canyon Reservoir. In response to that claim, St. Helena approved a plan to bypass more water from the reservoir into the creek.

In the April ruling on the second water rights suit against Calistoga, the Court of Appeal held that O’Gorman’s grandfather had permanently and entirely transferred the water rights at issue to the city in the contract executed in 1939. Because O’Gorman’s grandfather had sold the water rights to the city, the city’s use of water from Kimball Reservoir does not, as a matter of law, violate O’Gorman’s rights.

“While this is an important legal triumph for the city, it was not without significant cost. To date the city and its water and waste water rate payers have spent in excess of $1.4 million dollars defending our water supply rights against the litigation brought by O’Gorman and her associates. This money could have been better spent providing vital services and infrastructure improvements for city residents,” the city’s statement said.

Brian Leighton, attorney for O’Gorman, could not be reached for comment.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com or 942-4035.


The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.