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Tesoro prompts water concerns

With proposed changes to housing development, water officials worry over potential supply problems

Posted: October 16, 2010 10:06 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

No one living in the next planned phase of the large Tesoro del Valle development is going to be left high and dry, water officials said of the Newhall County Water District earlier this week.

 The decision sets a “dangerous precedent,” one top local water official said, because the board left some legal and technical issues unaddressed at Thursday’s meeting.

Two questions, where that water will come from and which water agency will supply it, are still being debated.

For now, the ball is in the court of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning.

The Newhall County Water District supplies water to homeowners and businesses in Tesoro del Valle’s first phase of development — north of Copper Hill Road and west of San Francisquito Creek — as the designated retail water purveyor for the area.

In late August, county planners asked the district for an updated assessment of the area’s water supply after the builder began re-designing the next two phases of the development.

On Thursday night, the district board approved an updated assessment of Tesoro’s water supply as it relates to the revised plans.

Water assessment
The original water-supply assessment was based on the 2005 Urban Water Management Plan, which stated in part that there is enough water to supply all phases of Tesoro del Valle.

The update takes into account things that have happened since 2005 that might affect water supply, most significantly being a 2007 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger, which limited pumping operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta because some species of animals were being harmed, including delta smelt.

Despite plans by Tesoro to move a certain number of new homes from one planned phase to another phase, the changes do not affect the final outcome, said district general manager Steve Cole.

“From our standpoint, nothing much has changed,” he said. “We were approved to supply water to the development, and we continue to plan to serve the development.

“We’ve always planned for that level of demand to be served,” Cole said.

If you picture the Tesoro del Valle master plan as a box, he explained, all the new designs involve re-drawn lines inside that box.

The master plan called for 1,791 housing units when it was approved, and it still calls for 1,791 units.

But because changes were made, county planners now want to see what impact those changes might have on the area — not just for water, but for traffic and other considerations.

And the parties affected by these changes now want to know where they stand.

Affected party
One of those parties is the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which buys Northern California water wholesale from the State Water Project and sells it to four Santa Clarita Valley water retailers, including the Newhall County Water District.
Agency General Manager Dan Masnada voiced his concerns at Thursday’s meeting.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors decided to approve the Tesoro Water Supply Assessment and submit it to the county without addressing the legal and technical issues raised by the Castaic Lake Water Agency,” he said. 

Masnada pointed out to the board that his agency has a “clear policy” on existing water supplies within the agency’s service area.

Those water supplies are reserved for existing residents and property owners, he said.

“Those who desire to annex into the service area need to provide additional reliable water supplies so as to avoid impacting the water supplies of all those already in the service area,” he said. “Unfortunately, NCWD’s action is in conflict with these sound public policies.

Masnada said the district’s decision sets a “dangerous precedent” that could reduce “water-supply reliability” to existing customers and upset the balance of supply and demand with more water pumped out of the ground.

Planned phases
The county gave Tesoro del Valle the green light to build 1,791 housing units on 1,795 acres back in May 1999.

The project includes about 6.2 acres set aside for commercial use, 61.8 acres for parks and land reserved for an elementary school, fire station, water-retention basins and a water tank.

According to its plan, the Tesoro community is to be built in four phases, with the first phase completed four years ago.

The builder now wants to change the way it goes about building homes planned for the next couple of phases.
Specifically, Tesoro wants to shift where it builds the next 697 homes remaining in its grand plan.

Tesoro planned on building 237 homes for phases “B” and “C,” but it now wants to add 475 phase “A” homes that were never built.

District board vice president Maria Gutzeit voiced disappointment that the developer was absent at Thursday’s meeting.
“Shame on the Tesoro people for not having someone here,” she said.

Tesoro developer John Evans could not be reached for comment Friday.

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