A state Senate bill promising to create a brand new water district in the Santa Clarita Valley, was approved Wednesday by the Senate.
Of those who voted for the bill, they voted in favor. However, six Senators did not vote on the water bill – Senators Allen, Hernandez, Hertzberg, Mitchell, Portantino and Senator Henry Stern who represents the state’s 27th Senate District.
Senate Bill 634, called the Santa Clarita Valley Water District Act, is now expected to go to the Assembly Rules committee where it will be referred to a policy committee.
News of its approval was immediately well-received by water officials who have worked diligently over the past two years to see it through to completion.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our Valley,” Bob DiPrimio, President of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board, said in a written statement sent to The Signal.
“The broad support for a new water district from the local community, three Senate committees and the full Senate is a testament to this hard work and we are now eager to advance this legislation through the California State Assembly,” DiPrimio said.
Maria Gutzeit, president of the Newhall County Water District, went on to add that “our region is on the cusp of extraordinary cost savings, more accessible water governance, better watershed management, and stronger water quality.
“Now is the time to realize these benefits for our customers and we are grateful to the California State Senate’s support,” Gutzeit said.
Not everyone was thrilled, however, to hear the historic bill is moving down the track, unopposed.
“We want to make sure our district stays whole and that we have access to representation,” Lloyd Carder II, president of the Castaic Area Town Council, told The Signal Thursday.
Council members have said they want to know where they stand and want assurances they will be able to weigh in on important water issues such as rate hikes.
“It’s not clearly defined in the bill,” Carder said. “It’s assumed but not stated.”
Senator Henry Stern was one of six senators who did not participate in Wednesday’s Senate vote on SB 634. He chose, instead, to abstain from voting on it.
As he’s said in the past, Stern told The Signal Thursday he wants more transparency with SB 634.
While Stern said he appreciates the efforts to engage all the stakeholders, he still “had too many concerns to vote for the bill including insufficient transparency around the Valencia Water Company merger,” he said.
“I feel that the people of the Santa Clarita Valley need more assurance that this bill won’t tip the scales or end-around existing water and environmental reviews of new land developments.”
Wednesday was not the first time Stern chose not to vote on SB 634.
Stern, who serves on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water which reviewed the bill in March, chose not to vote on the bill at that time after having expressed concerns about it.
State staffers for the committee prepared a report which pointed out: “The bill is largely silent on the other two retail water suppliers (Valencia Water Co. and Los Angeles County Waterworks District #36) within the new district’s boundaries.”
SB 634 marks the culmination of two years’ work by two feuding water districts to bury the hatchet and move forward.
On Dec. 13, 2016, water officials moved to create one unifying water agency when SCV’s water wholesaler – the Castaic Lake Water Agency – and one of the valley’s three main water retailers – the Newhall County Water District – entered into a binding settlement agreement towards that end. Officials voted immediately to draw up legislation to close the deal.
The historic document poised to become law promises – according to bill proponents – to transform what they call a “patchwork of numerous water providers that creates redundant services, stifled integration, inherent conflicts and added costs” into a “new regional water district that would integrate systems”.
The bill’s journey is a long one reaching back over two years of planning and discussion by local water officials.
In January, a month after the NCWD and CLWA signed a settlement agreement, water officials got together and discussed publicly, the legislation needed to secure the formation of a new water agency.
After a year of public debate over the Agency’s merging with SCV water retailer, the Newhall County Water District, the historic venture was on its way to becoming a reality.
Santa Clarita Valley residents, businesses and institutions get their water from one of four water retailers: Newhall County Water District, Valencia Water Company, Santa Clarita Water Division or Los Angeles County Waterworks District #36.
Castaic Lake Water Agency is the region’s water wholesaler.
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