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Lynne Plambeck: Water plan needs closer examination

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: February 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.

After the devastating California drought of the 1970s, legislators realized that water planning in our state was sadly lacking. They wanted to make sure that cities and other planning agencies were well-informed about the local water supply, since droughts in the west are cyclical and do re-occur.

Beginning in 1980, water districts serving more than 3,000 hookups have been required to provide an urban water-management plan with an update every five years.

Castaic Lake Water Agency failed to file a plan for many years. After all, the only penalty was not being able to apply for state grants, and they weren’t applying for that money anyway.

Many of us complained about this failure, because we felt a water plan from CLWA was needed for good planning in our growing valley. We did not want to see houses built without a water supply or a supply that would restrict existing residents unfairly.

But when CLWA finally completed its first water plan in 2000, the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Santa Clara River challenged it. Why? It counted water polluted with ammonium perchlorate as though it were available for a drinking water source.

The appeals court agreed with the environmental groups that this was not right. CLWA’s plan had to be revised to indicate exactly when the water would be cleaned enough to be served to the public.

CLWA’s 2005 plan again ran afoul of the environmental community.

This time, the Friends of the Santa Clara River and California Water Impact Network complained that the 10-percent conservation figure relied upon by CLWA to meet the needed water supply was not supported by data, but merely pulled out of thin air. The groups settled with CLWA when the agency offered to do a study that backed up this figure.

Interestingly, the state Legislature agreed with the environmental groups that this was a problem, and made this a requirement for all future urban water-management plans. As part of that water bill, passed at the end of the last legislative session, additional conservation requirements and disclosures were required for the plans, and the time to file was extended for one year to 2011.

Now it’s 2011, and our local water agencies have produced a new plan that will look at water supplies for the next 20 years. CLWA has already told the county, in a preview of what it will present, that it has plenty of water to serve a population double our size and accommodate the huge increase in the general-plan update.

But the public has not had an opportunity to check the agency’s numbers. Although it has held several workshops (one which was canceled at the last minute), these workshops mainly just explain the local water supply. The actual document is not available. While such workshops are helpful for giving the public a background of our local water supply, it is really not possible to give input on a process without seeing the actual plan.

The first public hearing on this plan is scheduled for March 23, about a month and a half away, and still no document has been released to the public. With previous plans running to around 400 pages, plus substantial backup documentation, this short time line will already make it difficult for the public to thoroughly review the new plan. We hope this isn’t intentional.

With mounting concerns about water supply in California, tens of thousands of already approved units and even more that would be accommodated by the One Valley, One Vision plan, the public wants to know whether there is really enough water for all that growth. Residents also want to know where it will come from, and how much that water will cost. 

CLWA recently almost doubled the cost of the water it sells to the local water companies. Staff at the agency regularly use the old quote that “Water moves uphill to money.” But whose money?  Yours and mine, of course.

So there is more than one reason to take a hard look at this urban water-management plan. Local residents should not only be concerned about how much water will be available to them in the future, but also how much that water will cost.

I urge the water agencies to make the urban water-management plan available soon, so that the hearing will be useful for the public and actually provide needed input to the plan, as the hearing was intended to do.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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