About a dozen protesters staged a demonstration on Tuesday in Santa Clarita against a state senate bill promising the creation of one water district for the Santa Clarita Valley.
Picketers waved handheld cardboard signs at passing motorists that read: “Save our water, Call for an audit, Just say no to SB 634, No backroom deals and We demand a vote.” They were positioned outside the local offices of the bill’s author Senator Scott Wilk located in city hall.
Some motorists honked their horns but virtually nobody stopped to listen to the concerns of the protesters.
More than half a dozen activists used a bullhorn in turn to express themselves to each other and to four reporters.
“The Castaic Lake Water Agency is $300 million in debt and we’re worried what’s going to happen with our groundwater,” said protest organizer Lynne Plambeck, who is a board member of the Newhall County Water District.
Drawing attention to a map of the Santa Clarita Valley mounted on an easel, Plambeck pointed to an area where 21,000 homes are planned to be built as part of the Newhall Ranch project.
“They (CLWA) will automatically be able to pump groundwater here,” she said tapping an area west of Interstate 5 and south of Highway 126 on the map.
No backroom deals
Logan Smith, a young man who recently announced plans to run for a seat on City Council next year, called the proposed water district bill “an assault on democracy,” saying the issue should be put to the people for consideration.
“If you knock on any door in Santa Clarita and ask ‘Do you want your water rates to go up?’ or ‘Do you want 21,000 homes to be built?’ I think you’ll get a resounding ‘No,’” he said.
“They should make a case to the voters,” he said. “Let this conversation play out in the sunshine and end these backroom deals.”
Lloyd Carder II, president of the Castaic Area Town Council, who told The Signal recently that his constituents want assurances in the bill that they will be able to weigh in on important water issues such as rate hikes grabbed the bullhorn to make his point.
“The (Los Angeles County Waterworks) District 36 is not in the bill,” he said on the steps of City Hall. “And, nowhere in the bill does it say where we will get the right to vote.
“Without District 36 having a voice, this bill should fail,” Carder said.
Protesters delivered about 100 letters of opposition to SB 634 to staffers at Wilk’s local office.
A flyer handed out by protesters Tuesday claimed SB 634 does not create a new water district because it does not include District 36 and Valencia Water Company.
Not so, said CLWA General Manager Matt Stone when contacted later about the group’s claims.
“SB 634 does provide for a new water district that replaces CLWA and (Newhall County Water District) and brings in the Valencia Water Company after a short transition period,” he said.
In response to the group’s claim of the agency having a $300 million debt, Stone said the agency’s budgets are public and transparent.
“CLWA currently has $258 million in outstanding debt that has funded critical water infrastructure which provides a reliable and quality water supply for the Santa Clarita Valley,” Stone said.
“This includes two water treatment plants, a perchlorate treatment plant, three pump stations, emergency and operational storage, extensive pipeline facilities, water supply and groundwater banking programs.”
Stone noted that the current value of the agency’s assets is approximately $434.6 million, “so the Agency’s net position is positive.”
In response to Plambeck’s fear about groundwater availability and Valencia Water Company’s commitment to Newhall Land and Farming, Stone said: “These water demand numbers are the ones included in the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan that has been approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“In this agreement, VWC also agreed that Newhall Land & Farming could convert the groundwater currently used for agriculture to municipal use for the Newhall Specific Plan up to 7,038 acre-feet per year,” he said.
“This is water that is currently being used in the same area as the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan.
“CLWA thoroughly analyzed the technical memo’s methods of determining water demand prior to the VWC acquisition and believes that the demand factors are conservatively overstated in light of recent water use efficiencies and state mandated conservation standards.
“That is, it is likely that the water demand will be less than what was planned for in the NR Specific Plan,” Stone said.
For more than a year, officials with the CLWA and the NCWD – SCV’s water wholesaler and one of its four local water retailers, respectively – have been hammering out details of a merger, eliciting input from the public at four public meetings.
In December, both the CLWA and NCWD signed a settlement agreement calling for legislation to be drafted and submitted.
In February, SB 634 was introduced to create one new all-encompassing water agency that would manage and distribute water throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt