The biggest hurdle standing in the way of a water bill creating one new all-encompassing water district in the Santa Clarita Valley is the cost-scrutinizing appropriations committee where it now sits waiting to be considered.
The bill’s author, Senator Scott Wilk updated more than 100 local business people Wednesday on the status of Senate Bill 634 at a breakfast event held by the SCV Chamber of Commerce.
“This is probably our biggest hurdle,” Wilk told chamber members, referring to the cost-scrutinizing work carried out by the state’s Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The two local water agencies spearheading merger efforts these past two years – Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall County Water District – are the ones that sponsored Wednesday’s chamber breakfast at the Tournament Players Club Valencia golf course.
SCV’s water wholesaler, CLWA, and NCWD – one of three main water retailers in the SCV – signed a settlement agreement at the end of last year calling for legislation to be drafted and submitted for the creation of a brand new water agency.
Wilk submitted the bill in February.
“This bill is so important to this valley,” Wilk said.
“We want to reduce cost to you. We want to integrate valley-wide our system between the two (water agencies) who are competitive for grants and who are better to sustain our water management as one entity,” Wilk said.
Wilk shared some of his insights as senator, revealing that the very first senate analysis of water history prepared for the bill by the Senate Governance Committee reads “like a novel because of all the water wars that have gone on this valley for so long.”
“So, we’re going to eliminate that,” Wilk said, referring to costly litigation initiated by both sides of feuding water interests.
Addressing scrutiny the bill has drawn over what one Senate committee referred to as containing “scant reference” to Valencia Water Company, Wilk said: “Valencia Water Company is in limbo right now.
“It’ll be absorbed into this new company so it will be under the Brown Act and (subject to) Public Records Act requests and all those things,” he said.
Wilk summed up the bill’s passage thus far through the Senate and then through the Assembly as successful.
Senate Bill 634 now sits in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and “the thing that’s always scary about that is that it is on the suspense file,” Wilk said.
“Because in the Assembly, if any bill costs $150,000 or more it goes on the suspense file and they’ll have hearings right near the end of Session,” he said.
Bills go to the suspense file for review anytime there is a “fiscal impact of $150,000 or more.”
“The chair of that committee can just pocket that bill and it would never get a vote. So this is probably our biggest hurdle,” the senator said.
If it gets through the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Wilk said, the bill goes back to the Senate for a final review and then procedure to the Governor’s desk for signing.
Gary Martin, vice president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s board of directors, in introducing Wilk to the breakfast group described SB 634 as “a lot better today than it was when it was introduced in February.”
Martin then quoted aging rocker Bob Seger – a reference not wasted on the Chamber group – about running “against the wind,” describing the effort that has gone into the bill.
He described SB 634 as “good for us all.”
In December, both the CLWA and NCWD signed a settlement agreement calling for legislation to be drafted and submitted.
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 February, SB 634 was introduced to create one new all-encompassing water agency that would manage and distribute water throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.
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