Water bill moves closer to passage

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With just one committee left to scrutinize Senator Scott Wilk’s Senate bill calling for one brand new all-encompassing water district for the Santa Clarita Valley, the vision of local water officials is on track to making history.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance approved Wilk’s SB 634 – the Santa Clarita Valley Water District Act – in a 6-0 vote.

“I am very pleased the Committee sees the value in a creating a new state water agency that will reflect the values of transparency and accountability in the Santa Clarita Valley’s water delivery,” Wilk announced in a statement issued Thursday.

“I want to ensure that residents of the Santa Clarita Valley have a first class water provider,” he said.

The bill is now on its way for a review by the Appropriations Committee which Wilk staffer Jake Donahue anticipates happening next month.

The Appropriations Committee, among other tasks, looks at the cost of proposed bills.  And, since SB634 doesn’t come with any sort of price tag – it doesn’t involve building a bridge, moving earth or any other capital expense – it is expected to clear the committee.

From there it goes to the legislative floor and on its way to being voted into law.

The elected heads of the feuding SCV water agencies – the Castaic Lake Water Agency and one of four local water retailers, the Newhall County Water District – who hammered out their differences these past two years and agreed to merge, were elated over news of Wednesday’s unanimous committee vote.

Maria Gutzeit and Bob DiPrimio, presidents of NCWD and CLWA boards respectively, issued a joint statement Thursday on the passage of SB 634 out of the California Senate Governance and Finance Committee:

“Yesterday’s 6-0 approval of SB 634 is another major step forward for unified water management in the Santa Clarita Valley,” they announced Thursday.

“Senator Wilk’s leadership has made this proposal even stronger and we are grateful for the Senate Governance and Finance Committee’s overwhelming support.

“As this bill progresses through the legislature, our community gets closer to lower water management costs, stronger local reliability and better watershed planning,” they said.

Gutzeit and DiPrimio concluded their announcement, noting: “We look forward to SB 634’s continued advancement and thank Senator Wilk for his hard work to bring the benefits of a new water district to our local community,”

The purpose of SB 634, according to Wilk, is to create a new state water agency that will have a streamlined governance structure reflecting the values of transparency and accountability.

Currently, there are multiple water providers supplying a patchwork of water services to the region – a situation that has resulted in confusion, overlap and added costs for consumers, he said in his statement Thursday.

His proposal, he said, would integrate existing infrastructure and systems into one 21st Century modern government agency that will serve as a model for water agencies throughout the state and nation.

Not everyone, however is thrilled about the plan.

Two SCV residents drove all the way to Sacramento Wednesday to tell committee members why they object to the proposed bill.

Lynne Plambeck, long-time elected and re-elected member of the NCWD board and outspoken critic of the merger and SB634, and Stacy Fortner who ran unsuccessfully in last November’s election for a seat on the CLWA board wanted the committee to hear the reasons for their opposition.

“I was thrust into this world of water in February of 2014 when I received a letter from the California Public Utilities Commission stating that my water company was no longer regulated,” Fortner said in her prepared notes intended for the committee.

She identified herself as a customer of SCV water retailer Valencia Water Company, the stocks of which were purchased by the CLWA in December 2012.

“I read this bill,” she said in her prepared statement. “And was immediately struck that Valencia Water Company and (SCV water retailer) Los Angeles County Waterworks District #36 were not included in what was originally hailed as ‘One Valley, One water”. It has since morphed into One Valley, 3 Waters, and one “no one is really sure what to call it”.

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