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How does tap water get to Santa Clarita?

Part 2 of 2

Posted: July 15, 2008 1:29 a.m.
Updated: September 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Cottonwood Creek, Big Flat in 2007 - Once deepening trenches are filled, meadow restoration teams can regulate the seasonal water runoff by allowing it drain naturally into the flood plain.

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The thirst for Northern Californian water began long before the statewide drought declared by the Governor last month.

Many have tried to find faster and better ways of bringing northern water south.

The San Joaquin Delta
After the Gold Rush, President Ulysses S. Grant witnessed gold miners becoming farmers and in 1863 commissioned Colonel B. S. Alexander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look at the water needs of California.

After surveying the Central Valley's irrigation needs, Alexander recommended systematic development of the Sierra watersheds.

The next 60 years saw extensive efforts to distribute the water in Northern California to an increasingly thirsty Southern California.

In 1883, William Hammond Hall called for flood control and navigation improvements on the Sacramento, Feather, Yuba, and Bear rivers and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The most ambitious plan, however, was hatched in 1919 by Lieutenant Robert B. Marshall of the U.S. Geological Survey who proposed transporting water from the Sacramento River system to the San Joaquin Valley then moving it over the Tehachapi Mountains into Southern California.

This concept evolved into the State Water Plan - predecessor of the State Water Project - which was approved under the Central Valley Act of 1933 at a cost of $170 million, sidelined by The Great Depression, then dusted off and funded, in part, by the federal government.

After the Second World War when droves of people settled in California, the increasing thirst for water motivated politicians to expand the State Water Project.

The Feather River Project of 1955 led to the construction of the Oroville Dam and reservoir and, ultimately, to the construction of the aqueduct that carries water from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley to points in Southern California, including the Santa Clarita Valley.

After vigorous debate over water rights and shared costs, the SWP was born in November 1960 when voters endorsed the Burns-Porter Act, formally known as the California Water Resources Development Bond Act.

Extending more than 660 miles, the SWP is the largest state-owned, user-financed water system in the United States.

So, as our drop of water makes its way out of Lake Oroville it rejoins the Feather River which runs through Yuba County and merges with the Sacramento River at Verona - but not until it has pushed turbines at the Oroville Dam.

From there, south across the central state's flat farmland to the grapevine, our drop of water (now having travelled 150 miles from the snow pack) is continually twisted, contorted and re-defined through continuous litigation and governance as it flows through the state capital into the San Joaquin Delta.

When the hands of power turn the taps in Sacramento, it affects the amount of water that flows out of taps in homes in Santa Clarita.

In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger issued a decision in federal court that limited pumping operations in the San Joaquin Delta because some species of animals were being harmed, including the Delta smelt.

Last month, Judge Wanger began hearings to discuss the possibility of further reducing pumping from the Delta - the hub of California's water system - to help protect other fish including the Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead.

Castaic Lake
By the time our sample drop becomes part of Castaic Lake via the SWP, it will have travelled more than 480 miles from the snow pack on Kettle Rock, pushed turbines at more than half a dozen hydro-electric plants and crossed two major mountain ranges.

The electricity generated is used to pump other drops of water just like it through the SWP, providing water to more than 23 million people and more than 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Coast, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.

Once its part of Castaic Lake, our drop of water is under the care and control of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Under terms of its contract with the State of California, the local water agency - and the 28 other agencies like it - pay approximately 94 percent of SWP costs, including construction and operations and maintenance.

Once in Castaic Lake, our drop of water takes one of two routes - to the Earl Schmidt Filtration Plant or the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouqet Road, overlooking Central Park.

From the treatment plant, our drop of water can take one of four routes as it's delivered to one of four local water retailers: Newhall County Water District, the Los Angeles Waterworks District No. 36 and the Santa Clarita Water (Company) District which was purchased by the agency in 1999.

From there the retailer delivers that drop of water to homes in Santa Clarita Valley.

So, when a Santa Clarita ratepayer turns on the tap and our sample drop of water - that began as melted snow on the peak of Kettle Rock - helps fill a glass of water; half the glass is typically filled with water that has travelled the same route from Northern California. The remaining half of the glass is water that has come from four local sources: groundwater wells, including shallow wells that tap the Alluvial Aquifer and from water deposits set deep in the earth inside the Saugus Formation.

Last month, Masnada , speaking at a luncheon of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, told local business people, warned them about the consequences of diminishing snow packs.

"The most recent effects of climate change are reflected in the Department of Water Resources' State Water Project delivery regarding reduced availabilities of water," he told The Signal last week.

Continuing dry conditions and court-ordered restrictions on Delta water exports are limiting water deliveries to farms and urban areas.

DWR estimates that it will only be able to deliver 35 percent of requested SWP water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California.

"We're looking at a 35 percent allocation for this year," Masnada said. "The long-term average will see 66 to 69 percent (allocation). Some years, its been 80 to 90 percent allocation. Two years ago, it was 100 percent allocation.

"It really depends on what mother nature does."

On June 4, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought. A week later, he declared a state of emergency for nine counties in Northern California, citing severe drought conditions in those areas.
California's Office of the Attorney General blames global warming for losses to the Sierra Snow Pack.

On its official website, explaining the impacts of Global Warming, the attorney general states:

"Higher temperatures diminish snowfall and cause the snow that does fall to melt earlier. This reduces the amount of water stored in the Sierra snow pack, which accounts for approximately half of the surface water stored in the State. Reductions and early melting of the snow pack will aggravate the State's already overstretched water resources."

Masnada reassured local business people, last month, however, that if catastrophe struck the San Joaquin Delta, Santa Clarita Valley residents can get by on water stored by the local agency for two years.

"If there was an outage (of State Water Project water), with the water stored in Kern County we could make it through two years, taking water (out) of storage," he told them.

But, citing a three-day tour of the Bay Delta area in June, Masnada still tempered his optimism with warnings about a diminishing snow pack.

The governor's executive order S-06-08 issued in regards to the drought reads: "Climate change will increasingly impact California's hydrology and is expected to reduce snowpack, alter the timing of runoff and increase the intensity and frequency of droughts in the western United States."

Masnada added: "From a water supply standpoint, it has huge implications... If things are bad right now, they're going to be worse with climate change."


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