Four longtime Castaic Lake Water Agency board members with a unified agenda face one challenger each on the Nov. 8 ballot.
All eight candidates have platforms addressing water management issues, but the challengers’ platforms include undercurrents of opposition to growth and to a proposed water district merger.
The stated mission of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, created by Santa Clarita Valley residents in 1962, is to provide water at a reasonable cost to the four retail water districts in the SCV. Since the mission applies to the entire valley regardless of growth, some view it as enabling more development.
The board is made up of 11 candidates.
The incumbent in the race for the lone at-large seat on the ballot is William “Bill” Cooper, a veteran of the Metropolitan Water District and 23-year member of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.
Cooper cited water availability as a primary concern, noting groundwater pollution has taken some water out of play and the district needs to continue its multi-pronged approach to storing and recycling water, as well as seeking new sources.
Challenging Cooper for the at-large seat is Lynne Plambeck, who was first elected to the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors in 1994 and has been repeatedly returned to office by voters.
In the early 2000s Plambeck, a longtime environmentalist, led a water board movement to reduce growth in the Newhall County Water District by curbing “will serve” letters, commitments to provide water to properties. The effort was thwarted when a fellow board member changed sides on the issue.
Plambeck cited a proposal to merge Newhall County with Castaic Lake Water Agency as a primary issue in the Nov. 8 election, arguing a water monopoly in the Santa Clarita Valley is a bad idea for customers and noting price hikes that followed the wholesale water agency’s takeover of Santa Clarita Water and Valencia Water retailers.
R.J. Kelly is seeking re-election to the Division 1 seat. Elected in 2003, the veteran water board member, who works as a tax and business consultant, has served on the Finance Committee of the Association of California Water Agencies.
Kelly cited drought and groundwater management as primary concerns for the water agency and water recycling as a solution.
“These programs, while they sound simple, are very complex and expensive and require people with the vision of providing for the future of our valley,” he said.
Opposing Kelly is Joan Dunn, a former Newhall County Water District board member, who opposes Castaic Lake’s proposed takeover of the Newhall County Water District.
She noted the wholesale water agency has done a good job of water-banking but argued it needs to secure storage closer to the Santa Clarita Valley. CLWA has storage in Kern County, but critics say an earthquake could render it unreachable.
E.G. “Jerry” Gladbach is running to retain his seat representing Division 2 of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which he’s held for 31 years. A former president of the Association of California Water Agencies, Gladbach also sits on the board of the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles County.
A 35-year veteran of water issues and former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employee, Gladbach advocates multiple approaches to fulfilling the agency’s mission during the drought: storing more groundwater; expanding reclaimed water programs; and increasing reliability of the State Water Project, from which Castaic Lake gets its water.
Opposing Gladbach is Stacy Fortner, a longtime senior account executive who ran for the board in 2014 and collected nearly 17 percent of the vote.
Fortner opposes the merger of Castaic Lake and Newhall County and said the agency must put existing Santa Clarita Valley residents first on its list of concerns.
“We must make sure that there are really adequate supplies for current residents before we approve new development,” she said.
Eighteen -year Castaic Lake board veteran William “Bill” Pecsi is running to retain his seat in Division 3 of the agency. He has 34 years of water experience and is manager of a water system operation for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Like Cooper, he cites water availability as Castaic Lake’s prime challenge. He said the existing board has been successful so far due to its “visionary leadership and sound investments in water supply and resource projects.”
Pecsi’s lone opponent is Bonnie Nikolai, a Castaic Area Town Council member, who said she wants to make the Santa Clarita Valley “drought-proof.”
“CLWA should have foreseen this (drought) and prepared, instead of funding infrastructure for private developers working to add more homes onto an already-stressed system,” she said.
Only Plambeck has water district experience even approaching that of the incumbents, but theirs surpasses even hers in scope. We are also troubled by the challengers’ implied anti-growth agendas, which are not in compliance with the agency’s mission.
As to the issue of the proposed water district merger, we urge the incumbents to take a stand in favor of a public vote by customers of Newhall County Water District before the CLWA board takes any action.
Doing so would not only boost the incumbents’ campaigns, but also assure all SCV residents the merger proposal is not a back-room deal, as some suspect.
With these conditions, we urge a vote in favor of Cooper, Kelly, Gladbach and Pecsi for Castaic Lake Water Agency board.