Ratepayers are asking local water officials where does the Valencia Water Company fit in to the newly state-sanctioned agency officials are busy forming to handle all water in the Santa Clarita Valley.
And where does that same water retailer VWC fit into the state-mandated agency to monitor groundwater that the same water officials are forming?
At a public meeting Wednesday at the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant, state representatives allotted two hours for a review of what’s already been done to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency.
The purpose of the meeting was, in part, to learn who would sit on the groundwater agency.
Keith Abercrombie was there representing SCV water retailer, the Santa Clarita Water Division.
Steve Cole was there representing SCV water retailer, the Newhall County Water District.
So when the floor was opened up for questions, Valencia Water Company ratepayer Cam Noltemeyer asked about the only SCV water retailer not included: “Why is Valencia Water Company not involved?”
Valencia Water Company
Cole, unofficial head of the Groundwater Sustainability working group, told her Valencia Water Company was not recommended by the working group “to be part of the GSA.”
Noltemeyer asked him: “Why not?”
“It’s because of their status,” Cole told her.
“Being public or private?,” she asked.
“That’s right,” Cole said, to which Noltemeyer asked him: “And if that changes, will they be included?”
Cole told her: “I think that’s something the new GSA board would consider as part of the process. Yes.”
When Cole explained that VWC was excluded because state rules allowed only public agencies, Valencia Water Company ratepayer Stacy Fortner pressed him on that point.
“So they’re not a public agency,” she asked.
“Valencia Water company is not, correct,” Cole said.
“We all know that Valencia Water Company’s status is in between right now, so that’s something we’re working on,” he said in the end.
The group of concerned attendees remained unsatisfied.
“I don’t mean to sound stupid, but can you explain to me how an agency can be both private and public?,” Fortner asked.
“That’s not the purpose of what we’re here to discuss,” Cole said.
Public vs. Private
The CLWA, a public agency with an elected board and SCV’s water wholesaler, bought up Valencia Water Company’s stock in December 2012.
Before the purchase, Valencia Water Company founded in 1965, belonged to Newhall Land Development Inc.
About a year later, the California Public Utilities Commission accepted a conclusion made by Administrative Judge Todd O. Emister, who said, that since publicly owned Castaic Lake bought out Valencia Water in a stock purchase, Valencia was now part of a public agency and thus not subject to Public Utilities Commission oversight.
At that point, VWC wasn’t private enough for the consumer protection commission and not public enough to have elected members.
The water company’s days of ambiguity, however, may be over with the promise of Senator Scott Wilk’s Senate Bill 634.
“Currently, CLWA owns the stock of the Valencia Water Company but does not operate Valencia Water Company,” CLWA General Manager Matt Stone told The Signal Thursday.
“VWC operates as an independent company,” he said. “If the legislation is enacted and the proposed new Santa Clarita Valley Water District is created, the new district would then own the stock.
“The new district and VWC would have a clear path to bring VWC into the public sector,” Stone said.
“We believe that the potential efficiencies and economies of scale, along with and regional water resource management benefits already identified, would be enhanced by the inclusion of VWC in the new water district,” he said.
“As part of a public entity, VWC would operate in the same manner as the new district and as the current retailers (NCWD and SCWD), developing water rates through the public Proposition 218 process,” Stone said.
In 1996, Prop 218 gave taxpayers protection from certain tax, fee or charge increases without voter consent.
The absence of language, however, describing VWC’s role in the proposed new umbrella agency was a concern voiced by state staffers who prepared a report for the chair of the Senate subcomittee on Natural Resources, noting the proposed legislation by Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) was “largely silent” on Valencia Water Company.
Stone said the agency will work with Wilk to ensure that the legislation includes language that considers the potential inclusion of VWC in the new district after it is created.
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