Local groundwater group updates SCV

Signal File photo. Castaic Lake in January 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

An official with a newly-formed agency set up to manage Santa Clarita Valley’s groundwater unveiled several “undesirable” aspects of underground water it plans to look for and – hopefully – never find.

Rick Viergutz, principal water resources planner for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, debriefed about two dozen citizens attending a public hearing at the Santa Clarita City Hall Monday about nasty things about groundwater – such as dried up wells and salty content – that would prompt vigorous corrective action.

“We have to look at how to turn around these undesirable results in the course of 20 years,” he told a group of about two dozen people attending the public hearing.

Viergutz presented an audio-visual overview of the state’s Groundwater Sustainability Act, its mandate calling on communities such as the SCV to assemble a team of groundwater stakeholders, the need to assess the groundwater and manage it better.

He was speaking on behalf of the newly-formed Santa Clarita Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency.


Undesirable results

Part of managing groundwater more effectively, he said, involves identifying “undesirable” characteristics of the groundwater that would demand corrective action.

A short list of undesirable groundwater features includes:

– chronic lowering of groundwater levels, indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of SCV’s water supply.

– significant and unreasonable reduction in the among of groundwater stored.

– significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion.

– significant and unreasonable degraded water quality.

– significant and unreasonable land subsidence.

– depletion of “interconnected surface water “ that has significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial users of the surface water.

And, while “undesirable” aspects such of SCV groundwater are not likely to include the problem of seawater intrusion – as is witnessed in parts of Ventura County – other aspects were very real and recognizable for at least a couple of citizens attending the hearing Monday.

Beneficial Users is the term used in the federal Clean Water Act to identify those people benefiting from natural bodies of water.

When it comes the Santa Clarita Valley, the natural flowing surface water is the Santa Clara River and its beneficial users are farmers of salt-sensitive crops in Ventura County downstream.


Groundwater neighbors

Roy I. Thun, a senior environmental specialist, asked Viergutz if funding was available to facilitate talks between the upstream people assessing groundwater and the downstream people assigning groundwater at their end.

“Knowing that we are just one-half of the watershed, do you know if the Department of Water Resources or state provides any funding to how we can facilitate that coordination in working with Ventura and Piru?”

“How do we ensure connectivity between watersheds,” he asked.

Meeting attendee Lauren Everett, water resources project manager for the consulting firm Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, said the need for collaborative talks between neighboring groundwater agencies would be an aspect of groundwater management worthy of state funding.

“If that was something we feel is pertinent – and we could argue it is – then that is a relative expense,” she said.

Thun argued that downstream groundwater agencies could point upstream to neighboring agencies for shortcomings.

“They could say ‘We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,’” he said.

Meeting attendee Jeff Barry – principal hydrogeologist and water resources consultant for the firm GSI Water Solutions Inc., had an answer.

“Assessment of the upper basin and lower basin has to be transparent,” he said. “The issue of facilitating coordination is important.”


The drought

Under the state law passed two years ago, a law spurred by drought concerns and conservation, California communities – through their water agencies – are expected to come up with a community-based groundwater sustainability agency.

The state requires groundwater sustainability agencies be formed to manage each of its 127 underground basins by June 30. The agency, after it’s approved, will be responsible for developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by 2022 that will achieve sustainability by 2042.

If the state’s recent multi-year drought taught local water officials anything it was the need to conserve water and to take greater care in managing it.

The local groundwater in question involves the Santa Clara River Valley East Sub-Basin which stretches west from Agua Dulce to the Ventura County line and from the northern reaches of Castaic Lake to Calgrove.


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