SANTA CRUZ — Doug Deitch, an unsuccessful candidate in this year’s Board of Supervisors race, is suing the board, saying it has been negligent in its handling of the Pajaro Valley’s water troubles.

Deitch, a property manager, made water issues the center of his supervisorial campaigns in 1996 and again this year, losing both times by a wide margin.

Deitch’s lawyer, Alexander Henson of Carmel, said the suit is an attempt to force the supervisors to declare a ground-water emergency in the Pajaro Valley, which has long wrestled with problems like water overdraft and sea water creeping into the underground supply of fresh water.

Supervisors considered declaring a ground-water emergency last year, which would have enabled the county to take over water-management duties from the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency. Ultimately, the supervisors opted against the idea in part because of concerns over their legal jurisdiction.

Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said Friday that the lawsuit, filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, strikes her as a publicity stunt.

"I appreciate Mr. Deitch’s concern about water overdraft in South County," she said. "But if he thinks that it is going to be solved by his filing a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors, I wouldn’t want to rely on him to water my garden."

"What he thinks will be accomplished by this, other than publicity for himself, I really don’t know," she said.

The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency has argued that the supervisors doesn’t have authority over it because the agency was created by the state Legislature in 1984.

Deitch’s suit was filed May 12. Henson said the county board has until early June to respond.

In recent years, the board has been divided on the idea of a ground-water emergency.

Wormhoudt said the county does need to keep working on the issue, "but that doesn’t mean I think we need to step in and take over the job of elected members of water districts."

The Pajaro Valley water agency estimates that Pajaro Valley farmers and residents pump out approximately 69,000 acre feet of water per year. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons of water, enough water for about four households in a year.

In comparison, rainfall and other sources recharge the water tables only 31,000 acre feet per year, according to the agency. But these figures are the subject of some debate in the valley and vary considerably from year to year.

Henson said the board has resisted the idea of declaring an area-wide emergency in spite of the serious and escalating problem.

Deitch contends he, and others in the county, have suffered "irreparable injury" from the overdraft and supply troubles. He is seeking no monetary recourse, except for court costs.

Henson said the court system is not an unusual forum to settle this kind of concern.

"This is what I do all the time," said Henson, noting that he has filed suits against several counties, including Sonoma and Mendocino, to force them to upgrade "deficient" general plans.

Sentinel staff writer Trina Kleist contributed to this article.