State officials review northern water sent south

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As the Castaic Lake Water Agency remains poised to become one new all-encompassing water agency with the promise of a bill nearing final review in Sacramento, its unique role as provider of Northern California water to the Santa Clarita Valley is also under review.

State officials are in the process of reviewing how the state distributes Northern California water among 29 agencies contracted to receive it – including the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

How important is Northern California water for the people in the Santa Clarita Valley?

Answer: essential.

Half of the water in every glass of water poured from a tap in the SCV is from Northern California.  The other half is water pumped from groundwater right here in the SCV.

This balancing act began decades ago.

Sourcing water

On Apr. 30, 1963, the CLWA – then known as the Upper Santa Clara River Valley Water Agency – signed an agreement with the state to receive 41,500 acre-feet of water each year from Northern California as part of the State Water Project.

That amount of water is at about 41,500 football fields under one foot of water.

Just over a half century since the agreement was hammered out, the CLWA is now contracted with the state to receive more than double the original allotment, or about 95,200 acre-feet of water each year.

About a quarter of every dollar paid by SCV ratepayers goes to covering the costs of receiving water from Northern California, according to Valerie Pryor, CLWA’s assistant general manager.


Water cost

On Monday, members of CLWA’s Budget and Rates Committee endorsed a recommendation that the board pay its regular bill for the Northern California water the agency receives, amounting to close to $18 million.

But, just as the CLWA is redefining itself into one new agency with Senate Bill 634, state officials are in the process of redefining its role in providing Northern California water as part of its State Water Project commitment.

The contract signed by the state guaranteeing delivery of Northern California water expires in 21 years.

“The current contract does expire in 2038, but the agency (CLWA) and other state water contractors negotiated with the State Department of Water Resources to extend the contracts through Dec. 31, 2085,” Pryor told The Signal this week.

“The agency, other state water contractors and DWR signed an ‘Agreement in Principle’ for the contract extensions and this is the basis for the preparation of an environmental impact report which was released on Sept. 12, 2014,” she said.

“The (state’s) EIR comment period ended Oct. 17, 2016,” Pryor said.  “And the Department of Water Resources is currently reviewing the comments.”

Water need

And, despite ongoing efforts to manage groundwater more effectively and install pipes to recycle water in an effort to conserve it, the need for Northern California water remains.

“Generally, the State Water Project provides about half of the municipal water used in the SCV with the remainder coming mainly from groundwater and a small portion from recycled water,” CLWA’s Water Resource Manager Dirk Marks said this week.

“That quantity of State Water Project water can vary significantly year to year depending on the annual precipitation and reservoir storage conditions,” he said.

“In those years when the SWP allocation is lower, the SWP is still very important to the SCV.

“The State Water Project facilities are used to convey water that the agency has banked with its partners in the Kern County for delivery during these dry years,” he said.

The state’s plan to extend the promise of sending Northern California water south is called the Water Supply Contract Extension Project.

Officials are still mulling over the public comments reflecting on its plans.

As the cost of water delivered for Santa Clarita Valley’s next generation-  two decades from now  – is being reviewed, state officials point to climbing costs “associated with constructing and repairing State Water Project facilities,” according to a fact sheet issued by state officials a year ago.

Contract extension

State officials and water contractors such as the CLWA have already agreed to a few proposed project objectives:

– to ensure the Department of Water Resources can finance the cost of supplying Northern California water beyond 2035.

– to maintain an appropriate level of reserves and funds that would pay for the cost of supplying that water.

– to simplify the state’s billing process.

– to step up how state water officials and agencies like the CLWA work together in addressing the costs of distributing Northern California water.

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