Stacy Fortner | Water Quality Report: Another SCV Water Transparency Issue?
By Signal Contributor
Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

For the last two decades since a water quality confidence report was first required to be distributed to water customers in our community and elsewhere, the Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) dutifully mailed its joint report by the mandated July 1 date. In a coordinated effort to efficiently provide all the information and save on mailing and printing costs, CLWA and the water purveyors jointly produced and mailed this report to Santa Clarita Valley water users. It was therefore easily accessible and informed the community of water quality issues in the SCV.

For the most part, if a water well has serious quality issues, such as ammonium perchlorate pollution that causes thyroid problems or high levels of carcinogens, and these levels are above the maximum containment level (MCL) set by the Department of Health Services, those wells are shut down. This data is therefore not included in the report, since the wells are closed, but the report does have a general explanation of these and other pollutants present in our water. In the past we have also had incidents of high trihalomethanes in some areas of our valley, but for the most part the report shows contaminant levels below the MCL.

But now we have a new, merged mega water agency, and no report was mailed. Instead, residents received a bill stuffer telling them where this report could be found online and a form residents could mail in to request a paper copy of the report. While a bill stuffer does comply with the regulations for providing this report, the URL to access it is supposed to be short and simple to avoid discouraging the public. This one is long, complicated and case-sensitive.

Did you see it in your bill? Did you try to access the report on the water agency’s website? Did you clip and mail in the request form? Probably not. Did you receive it in your bill by July 1?

Most of the people I asked about this did not even see the notice in their bill. This is no surprise, since it is a well-known fact that customers just don’t read bill stuffers. If it is something really important, like trying to merge all the water agencies without a vote of the people, the promotional information is sent out separately, no matter how much it costs (in the case of the water merger, that cost was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars during the two-year PR blitz).

But maybe it doesn’t matter since the water quality levels were in compliance? No, this report matters and everyone should take at least a quick look at it to see where the potential problems are. Wouldn’t you want to know if your water system has a higher-than-usual level of a pollutant? Though the Health Department may not find these levels harmful, levels above the detection level for reporting (DLR) may indicate a future problem that will need attention. In the current report one might want to take note of the levels of nitrates, barium, TCE and PCE, trihalamethanes, sulfates and copper. While all these pollutants are below the public health level (except copper, which may be from plumbing fixtures in your home), it is important to note these problems and determine if this water system is serving you.

So why after two decades of mailing out this water quality report in a way that residents of Santa Clarita would really see it, did the new agency decide not to mail it? Could it have anything to do with the fact that few people read bill stuffers, so it is not likely they will see this report? Is this one more transparency issue the public should worry about now that we have a new mega water monopoly in the SCV controlling water information without the checks and balances that existed with individual purveyors?

And once accessed online, why does the water quality report still say Castaic Lake Water Agency all over it, when this agency no longer exists? Did someone at the new agency just forget this point? Why are there still four different systems listed when these systems are supposedly merged? It almost looks like this report was an afterthought, just thrown together at the last minute. Let’s hope the same thing can’t be said for the data it contains.

One positive about the bill stuffer is it contains notice about the report in many languages, with Spanish the most prominent. I support this because everyone, including non-English speakers, should have access to information about their water supply, our most important resource.

I urge the water agency to address these issues by providing BOTH the multilingual bill stuffer AND mailing out this important water quality report as they have previously done. It is important for the community to be fully informed about the quality of water they drink. I urge the community to access and read this report. (available at: https://yourscvwater.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-SCV-Water-Quality-Report.pdf).

Stacy Fortner

Valencia

Editor’s note: We asked SCV Water about the report, and they said it has not been mailed for at least several years, which reduces costs. According to SCV Water, the agency’s efforts to inform the public of the report’s availability included the following: posted on website; press release sent in May, and the release was published by The Signal, SCVTV and KHTS; social media posts; e-newsletter to 25,000 customer email addresses; copies distributed to local libraries; paid public notices in The Signal; and, as noted in Ms. Fortner’s letter, the bill stuffers.

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Signal Contributor

Stacy Fortner | Water Quality Report: Another SCV Water Transparency Issue?

For the last two decades since a water quality confidence report was first required to be distributed to water customers in our community and elsewhere, the Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) dutifully mailed its joint report by the mandated July 1 date. In a coordinated effort to efficiently provide all the information and save on mailing and printing costs, CLWA and the water purveyors jointly produced and mailed this report to Santa Clarita Valley water users. It was therefore easily accessible and informed the community of water quality issues in the SCV.

For the most part, if a water well has serious quality issues, such as ammonium perchlorate pollution that causes thyroid problems or high levels of carcinogens, and these levels are above the maximum containment level (MCL) set by the Department of Health Services, those wells are shut down. This data is therefore not included in the report, since the wells are closed, but the report does have a general explanation of these and other pollutants present in our water. In the past we have also had incidents of high trihalomethanes in some areas of our valley, but for the most part the report shows contaminant levels below the MCL.

But now we have a new, merged mega water agency, and no report was mailed. Instead, residents received a bill stuffer telling them where this report could be found online and a form residents could mail in to request a paper copy of the report. While a bill stuffer does comply with the regulations for providing this report, the URL to access it is supposed to be short and simple to avoid discouraging the public. This one is long, complicated and case-sensitive.

Did you see it in your bill? Did you try to access the report on the water agency’s website? Did you clip and mail in the request form? Probably not. Did you receive it in your bill by July 1?

Most of the people I asked about this did not even see the notice in their bill. This is no surprise, since it is a well-known fact that customers just don’t read bill stuffers. If it is something really important, like trying to merge all the water agencies without a vote of the people, the promotional information is sent out separately, no matter how much it costs (in the case of the water merger, that cost was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars during the two-year PR blitz).

But maybe it doesn’t matter since the water quality levels were in compliance? No, this report matters and everyone should take at least a quick look at it to see where the potential problems are. Wouldn’t you want to know if your water system has a higher-than-usual level of a pollutant? Though the Health Department may not find these levels harmful, levels above the detection level for reporting (DLR) may indicate a future problem that will need attention. In the current report one might want to take note of the levels of nitrates, barium, TCE and PCE, trihalamethanes, sulfates and copper. While all these pollutants are below the public health level (except copper, which may be from plumbing fixtures in your home), it is important to note these problems and determine if this water system is serving you.

So why after two decades of mailing out this water quality report in a way that residents of Santa Clarita would really see it, did the new agency decide not to mail it? Could it have anything to do with the fact that few people read bill stuffers, so it is not likely they will see this report? Is this one more transparency issue the public should worry about now that we have a new mega water monopoly in the SCV controlling water information without the checks and balances that existed with individual purveyors?

And once accessed online, why does the water quality report still say Castaic Lake Water Agency all over it, when this agency no longer exists? Did someone at the new agency just forget this point? Why are there still four different systems listed when these systems are supposedly merged? It almost looks like this report was an afterthought, just thrown together at the last minute. Let’s hope the same thing can’t be said for the data it contains.

One positive about the bill stuffer is it contains notice about the report in many languages, with Spanish the most prominent. I support this because everyone, including non-English speakers, should have access to information about their water supply, our most important resource.

I urge the water agency to address these issues by providing BOTH the multilingual bill stuffer AND mailing out this important water quality report as they have previously done. It is important for the community to be fully informed about the quality of water they drink. I urge the community to access and read this report. (available at: https://yourscvwater.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-SCV-Water-Quality-Report.pdf).

Stacy Fortner

Valencia

Editor’s note: We asked SCV Water about the report, and they said it has not been mailed for at least several years, which reduces costs. According to SCV Water, the agency’s efforts to inform the public of the report’s availability included the following: posted on website; press release sent in May, and the release was published by The Signal, SCVTV and KHTS; social media posts; e-newsletter to 25,000 customer email addresses; copies distributed to local libraries; paid public notices in The Signal; and, as noted in Ms. Fortner’s letter, the bill stuffers.