On April 8 The Signal Editorial Board asked questions about proposed legislation, Sen. Scott Wilk’s Senate Bill 634, required to form a new water agency in the Santa Clarita Valley.
We’ve answered those questions below. But first, here’s a quick refresher.
In 2015, Newhall County Water District and Castaic Lake Water Agency entered into discussions to settle several lawsuits. These talks were not easy. But later that year, a breakthrough occurred.
What if, instead of lawsuits and courtrooms, we settled litigation by creating a new district built with the best parts of each district? It was envisioned as a fresh start that would resolve our differences.
But we also realized that a new district would reduce costs, increase water reliability and begin to unify our valley’s water management.
It was an idea worth exploring.
Shortly thereafter, we began to ask our customers their opinions on this concept. This process included five public workshops and meetings, approximately 24 stakeholder meetings, two customer opinion surveys, 30,000 mailers and newsletters, approximately 65,000 emails, a dedicated website, 20,000 social media engagements and other tools.
Importantly, at the public’s request, we also had an independent, third-party financial, operations and governance study completed and issued to customers for their review.
Then, in December 2016, our boards voted 14-1 to move forward with the settlement agreement and pursue legislation to form a new district. This gave rise to SB 634.
In its editorial, The Signal asked some very specific questions about this process and SB 634. So here are the facts:
Why does it take state law to form this new agency? This is rather straightforward. Since Castaic Lake Water Agency was formed by legislation, it must be dissolved by legislation to make way for the new agency.
Senator Wilk’s legislation was introduced in February and was approved by its first committee 7-0 in March. Several more committees, as well as the full Senate and Assembly, must also consider the bill. If passed, it will head to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.
Why are only two agencies – Newhall County and Castaic Lake – at the table? Prior legal battles only involved NCWD and CLWA; therefore, only these two agencies could negotiate to resolve their conflicts. However, we realized efficiency, cost savings, and uniform water policy is beneficial to our entire valley.
That’s why the legislation is crafted to clear a pathway for the other local water agencies to join with the new district if they wish. It does so by ensuring the debt of an incoming agency would be firewalled from the others so as to not burden other customers.
Why isn’t Valencia Water Company part of SB 634? According to state law, CLWA can only provide retail water service within certain boundaries, and Valencia Water isn’t within them. A new water utility would not have that restriction, and Valencia’s Board of Directors could agree to bring the now-private company into the new public water district.
Water Works District 36 is another example of an entity in the region that was not part of the settlement talks. To be clear, the proposed legislation makes no changes to District 36. The new district will continue to provide wholesale water to District 36, just as CLWA does today.
At a later date, District 36 may wish to join the new district. But this will require a decision from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in coordination with the Local Agency Formation Commission.
The Signal also alluded to a persistent myth that the Newhall Ranch development is somehow tied to this process. This is simply false. Nothing in the legislation or settlement agreement would change how Newhall Ranch would get its water.
Moreover, Newhall Ranch approvals are the sole purview of the County of Los Angeles. According to both the county’s environmental studies and our regional Urban Water Management Plan, Newhall Ranch has secured its own water supplies using a combination of its well water, purchased water, and recycled water from the project.
We encourage everyone to read the bill at www.YourSCVWater.com. While you’re there, ask us a question, review more facts and learn how this can benefit the entire Santa Clarita Valley.
Maria Gutzeit is president of Newhall County Water District; Bob DiPrimio is president of Castaic Lake Water Agency.