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Water prices could rise for SCV residents

Drought conditions worsen, pricier water may be only choice

Posted: February 27, 2009 1:06 a.m.
Updated: February 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Santa Clarita Valley residents might have to pay more for water this summer, as the drought deepens and local water officials hammer out new deals for more water.

The cost of water sold to local water retailers could increase by more than 26 percent in June if two key water transfers go as planned by the Castaic Lake Water Agency, the wholesaler for the entire valley.

The agency's board of directors discussed ways of supplementing existing water supplies for Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers.

Board members reviewed some number-crunching at Wednesday's meeting if the two deals were to go through - specifically, an increase in the wholesale cost of water sold to the four local water retailers from $275-per-acre-feet of water to $348.50 for the same amount of water.

An acre foot of water is roughly what the typical family uses annually.

More than likely, one of the transfers will go through, the details of which will be discussed at next month's agency meeting, said agency General Manager Dan Masnada.

It's "premature" to talk about the possibility of rate increases, he said.

"Next month will be a lot more definitive," he said. "This is all part of our dry-year planning."

On June 4, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought and, despite almost four inches of rain this month, the drought is expected to extend into the summer, according to local water officials.

One of the two plans discussed involves the agency negotiating a deal with Newhall Land and Farming for the transfer of 1,607 acre-feet of water per year from the Nickel Ranch in Kern County.

The second water deal discussed at Wednesday's agency meeting involves conveying groundwater extracted from one of the state's first-ever water-banking programs - the Semitropic Water Bank in Kern County.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency and Newhall Land and Farming are partners in the Semitropic water-banking operation in Wasco.

"We would be extracting water," Masnada explained Thursday. "We would move out water we have stored there."

The agency was one of many that signed agreements to have water stored there on a temporary basis.

In 2002, Newhall Land signed a deal with the Nickel Family LLC - one of the state's oldest land-owning family businesses - for rights to about 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to serve, in part, residents of Newhall Ranch.

That's enough water to fill 7 million average bath tubs.

Since the 21,000-home development is not expected to be completed in the next year, the water agency wants the water set aside for Newhall Land for one year.

The Nickel Family owns pre-1914 "high-flow" water rights to the Kern River.

"I'm glad to hear they're thinking about it," said Jim Nickel whose father, George, negotiated the state's first water-banking program. "It made a lot of sense for Castaic Lake to take it over."

Two years before the Nickel Family signed a supply agreement with Newhall Land, it signed a supply agreement with the Kern County Water Agency for about 10,000 acre-feet of water per year, Nickel said.

In 1962, George Nickel negotiated to have 20 percent of its "high-flow" water stored in Lake Isabella.

"In times of drought, you wouldn't get any yield," Nickel said. "We had to store it somehow."

One of the first water-banking programs was set up by the city of Bakersfield "with my father's encouragement," he said.

Shortly after that, the Semitropic Water Bank was set up in Wasco, in Kern County.

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