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Low water levels at Castaic Lake could mean higher fees for SCV residents

Posted: May 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Signs posted at the entrance to Castaic Lake State Recreation Area notify visitors that the swimming beaches are closed for the summer due to low water levels and that there will no 4th of July fireworks at the lake this year. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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As one of the worst droughts on record deepens, and water levels at Castaic Lake continue to drop, Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers could find themselves paying more for their water as a result, water officials said.

“There is some impact on the ratepayers when the lake level gets down to a certain elevation,” said DanMasnada, general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, Santa Clarita Valley’s water wholesaler.

“As of (Wednesday) morning it was at 1,463 feet and we anticipate it dropping to 1,445 feet sometime next month,” Masnada told The Signal this past week.

“When the level drops to 1,445 feet (and below), we have to pump any water from the lake to our Earl Schmidt Filtration Plant, on the east side of the lake, for treatment, which results in power costs that we don’t normally incur,” he said.

Most of the time, water that arrives at the lake from Northern California as part of the State Water Project is delivered to the filtration plant simply by gravity. With water levels so low, however, there’s not enough pressure to make that happen.

“The power costs are paid by the four local water retailers and then passed on to Santa Clarita Valley customers through their retail water rates,” Masnada said. “Again, this situation typically does not occur in most years but will likely occur this summer.”

No swimming

Because of the drought, Castaic Lake’s lower lagoon will be closed to swimming all summer including Memorial Day and the 4th of July, park officials told The Signal.

The drought-induced receding water levels have created conditions that Department of Parks and Recreation officials have deemed unsafe, particularly for patrons who may lack advanced swimming skills.

“This is the first time Castaic Lake has been closed for swimming due to drought,” said department spokesman Andre Herndon.

Director Russ Guiney said that while the swim beach closure is unfortunate, safety is the department’s top priority.
“The state drought emergency is affecting many aspects of life in California, and we will not compromise on matters of safety,” Guiney said.

As well, there will be no fireworks at the lake this year for July 4th. The lake will be open for its regular summer hours 5:45 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. — but no swimming allowed. 

Effects of the drought, however, are being felt statewide, prompting other thirsty water agencies to come to Santa Clarita Valley with buckets in hand, as it were, to take what they need from Castaic Lake.

Re-directed water

This month, at the direction of officials at the California Department of Water Resources, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California began re-directing 30,000 acre-feet of water from Castaic Lake to Lake Perris in order to meet the needs of millions of Southern California customers, according to officials from both agencies.

The “Met” has had a long-standing agreement with the state, called a “flex storage” agreement, which permits it to draw water during times when the state cannot provide the water it promised under the terms of the State Water Project.

“We’re calling in our flex storage agreement,” Met spokesman Bob Muir told The Signal. “The state is shifting 30,000 acre-feet of water and shipping it to Lake Perris.

“These are extraordinary measures to get water to our customers,” he said, calling the move “unprecedented.”
Normally, the state allocates 1.9 million acre-feet of water for the Met. This year, California’s largest water agency is getting only 100,000 acre-feet of water from the state, Muir said.

“In 43 years, this is by far the lowest water allocation we’ve ever received,” he said.

No snow

In November, state officials delivered bad news to the 29 state water agencies that count on Northern California water to meet the needs of its customers that no water was being allocated to them.

Half the water delivered to ratepayers in the Santa Clarita Valley arrives here via the State Water Project.

Water officials across the state hoped snow packs melting in the Sierra Nevadas would bring a return to normal water allocations by April. The snow pack cupboard was bare, they found.

“Normally, the snow pack is 15 inches deep,” Water Resources spokesman Doug Carlson said. “And, by May, it’s normally 13 and a half inches. What we found was snow measuring 8 tenths of an inch, not even one inch.”

“That is really concerning,” he said. “Normally, the state relies on the snow pack to provide a third of its drinking water.”

As a result, the state said it would end up sending water agencies 5 per cent of the water they each normally receive.

“There’s such a juggling act going on right now,” Carlson said, citing the release of water from dams and the re-directing water from one location to another.

One of the largest reservoirs of water in the state sits at Oroville Dam near Sacramento. Its reservoir has the capacity to store 3.5 million acre-feet of water, Carlson said, on average that amount is 2.9 million acre-feet.

“Currently, water at the dam is at 1.78 million acre-feet,” he said.

Castaic Lake State Recreation Park Superintendent Lori Bennett said that water earmarked for use by the Met has nothing to do with local swimming beaches being closed.

“It’s the lower lagoon that has no swimming,” she told The Signal Wednesday. “The state’s agreement with the Met is for emergency storage and diversion and all that is water drawn down from the upper (Castaic) Lake.”
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