About 200 people looking for better ways to manage the water underneath Santa Clarita Valley took their first collective step in that direction Tuesday when they met to form a groundwater sustainability agency.
Water officials representing local water retailers, water board members, environmentalists and SCV water wholesaler – the Castaic Lake Water Agency – encountered some new faces at Tuesday’s “stakeholder forum.”
They heard from a stakeholder group normally silent at other water meetings – the private well owners in and around the Santa Clarita Valley.
Private well owner Jacqueline Ayer, of Acton, asked about the little guy’s role in assessing and regulating groundwater usage if established water agencies were to take a lead role.
“How do they (state officials) look out for people’s interest if we don’t have a seat at the table?,” she asked.
“Residential users could be squeezed out,” she said.
Questions such as this about representation were answered by officials with the Center for Collaborative Policy, who led the workshop.
Their goal, they said, was to inform the public about what state officials expect of them and what they expect from a community-based agency mandated to manage its groundwater.
There are 127 water basins in California, each expected to be managed by a GSA.
The local groundwater in question involves the Santa Clara River Valley East Sub-Basin which stretches west from Agua Dulce to the Ventura County line and from the northern reaches of Castaic Lake to Calgrove.
Center spokesman Dave Deppos narrated a slide show to explain to stakeholders – large well pumpers such as land developers and small private well owners alike – about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and about the groundwater plan state officials expect to see hammered out and in place.
Creating the new agency is a build-as-you-go process, he said.
“Everybody is building a plane that’s already flying,” Deppos said, noting state officials expect to see GSA’s formed by June 2017.
Under a state law passed two years ago, a law spurred by drought concerns and conservation, California communities through their water agencies are expected to come up with a groundwater sustainability agency.
What does a groundwater sustainability agency look like?
Steve Cole, general manager of the Newhall County Water District, called Tuesday’s workshop a “groundwater management 101 course.”
One of the legislative goals state officials expect to see emerge from a GSA created in the Santa Clarita Valley are minimum standards set for sustainable groundwater management.
Sustainability was defined for workshop attendees as “managing groundwater to prevent undesirable results.”
Undesirable results include such things as a chronic drop in groundwater levels, a drop in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion and diminished water quality.
The newly formed agency would be expected to set the standards and then come up with a way of enforcing them, Deppos said.
The new agency – according to state expectations – would find ways of increasing the amount of groundwater stored and ways of preventing any deterioration of water quality
It was hoped that those concerned about better management of SCV’s groundwater would provide input. Instead, workshop organizers heard a lot of questions from private well owners about what would be expected of them.
“Is this a one-size fits all program?,” said private well owner Kathleen Trinity. “Because we have an underground well, so should we be treated differently?”
Another man asked about water rights owned by his family that “pre-date” 1914.
“Many of us are agricultural users and we don’t always have control of our water,” he said. “I went to your website and found that a lot of information is not available.
“We’re being overwhelmed with this information tonight,” he said.
Compelling California communities to better manage their groundwater was born out of concerns posed by the on-going drought, Deppos told the group.
“Technically, we’re still in drought,” he said.
State officials expect the new groundwater agency to be finalized by the end of 2017.
Once established, the new agency would be responsible for coming up with a plan for groundwater sustainability by 2022 that will achieve sustainability by 2042.
As it stands now, the CLWA and SCV’s four water retailers – the CLWA Santa Clarita Water Division, Los Angeles County Waterworks District #36, Newhall County Water District, Valencia Water Company and others including the city of Santa Clarita and county of Los Angeles – are working to create the new agency.