Water heads consider plan to manage Santa Clara River watershed

Danielle Loera and Matthew Schmidt walk up from the Santa Clara Riverbed near the Iron Horse Trail on Monday, April 2, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Water officials developing strategy for better management of groundwater, recycled water, stored water and stormwater have come up with a brand new plan for the Santa Clara River Watershed.

Board members of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency were asked Tuesday to review a program hammered out by agency staffers calling for the agency to play a greater role in the stewardship of the Santa Clara River and its watershed.

With the formation of SCV Water, we promised a more holistic and regional approach to managing our water resources,” SCV Water Agency Assistant General Manager Steve Cole told The Signal just before Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“As the largest agency along the Santa Clara River watershed, it’s important for us to lay the groundwork for responsible stewardship of this important river system,” he said.

The program was pitched last month to members of the agency’s Water Resources and Watershed Committee who now what the agency to weigh in on the program and provide staffers with the input they need to move forward and develop it.

Holistic approach

Anticipating risks and costs associated with the proposed program in addition to the benefits, they want the board’s support before they start pursuing a strategy

“The board needs to consider exploring a holistic or programmatic approach to the management of the river system,” SCV Water Agency Assistant General Manager Steve Cole wrote in a memo to the board Tuesday.

The watershed program has two objectives, Cole noted in his memo: ensuring the sustainability and reliability of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water resources as they relate to the river system; and preserving and enhancing the environmental, aesthetic and recreational values of the river system.


The Santa Clara River is the longest free-flowing river in Southern California and the only one that winds through a pronounced and ruggedly dynamic topography of mountains from the desert to the ocean.

Every day it flows through the Santa Clarita Valley, even though most of us only ever see water in the river after several days of rain. The rest of the water is underground.

How to manage that underground water on either side of river is what the recommended watershed program is all about.

As ole points out in his memo to the board, the river is “central to the character of throughout its course.

“While most rivers have been highly channelized, the Santa Clarita River is one of the least altered rivers in Southern California.

“The river is central to the region’s history, and preservation and enhancement of the river’s resource values must be part of the community’s vision for the future,” Cole wrote in his memo.

Key elements

Formation of SCV Water this year — bringing various water agencies together under one roof as spelled out in SB 634  — presented agency staffers with a chance to take a leadership role in the stewardship of the river system.

Water officials see three key features to managing the river’s watershed:

  • Coming up with “analytical tools” in order to understand how it really works and what influences it. Such tools might include better maps of environmental habitats and ways of monitoring contaminants along the river.
  • Working together and building partnerships with watershed stakeholders such as Newhall Ranch developers build along the river’s banks. Other stakeholders include downstream farmers and agencies that manage things such as flood control.
  • Reaching out to those stakeholders about the importance of the watershed and Importance of working collaboratively towards a shared vision. A number of agencies already exist that  pursue independent agendas such as the recently-formed SCV Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Integrated Regional Water Management group.

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