In her June 28 Signal commentary, “Would a Water Agency Ever Say There Isn’t Enough?” Lynne Plambeck goes down a number of rabbit holes to conclude the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board of directors is derelict in its duty to ensure water supply adequacy for the SCV. Of course, her definition of “ensuring water supply adequacy” is to deny water for new development rather than providing enough water for both existing and future water users.
None of her arguments hold water – pun intended. In her assertion that then-Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s SB 221 requiring water supply verifications for developments over 500 units is flawed, Plambeck ignores the foundational document for water supply verifications, the SCV Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). This document, which is updated every five years by the SCV water suppliers, projects water demand and supply through 2050, when the SCV is expected to be built out. The 2015 UWMP includes demand projections for all land uses in the 2010 city and county general plan amendments (also known as One Valley, One Vision). Water demand for all existing and anticipated future development, regardless of size, is included.
Plambeck refers to a 2004 court ruling in Friends of the Santa Clara River vs. Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) et. al. that pertains to the 2000 UWMP. She wrongly concludes the ruling somehow reduces groundwater supply availability. In fact, the court ruled in favor of CLWA on all causes of action but concluded a schedule for actions to remediate perchlorate groundwater contamination was lacking – the equivalent of a fix-it ticket in the context of the entire UWMP. CLWA complied with the ruling by simply amending the UWMP to include the schedule. Contrary to her allegation, the ruling did not exclude the impacted groundwater from the 2000 UWMP supply projections. That being said, why is she even referring to a 15-year-old planning document that has been updated three times since the ruling? Truly water under the bridge – pun also intended.
In regards to Plambeck’s contention that CLWA has “…continued to count the polluted water …”, during my tenure as CLWA general manager, I explained numerous times that every drop of water delivered to SCV residents and businesses is treated to ensure it is potable and safe. Treating water to remove perchlorate is no different. As such, the perchlorate contamination issue is not a lost supply issue. It is a treatment issue. More fundamentally, it is a cost issue. And most fundamentally, it is an issue of who pays for the cost.
As a result of a lawsuit filed by CLWA and three local water retailers against the past and present owners of the Whittaker-Bermite site (the source of the contamination), a settlement was negotiated that ensured the treatment costs are borne by the owners and their insurers, and not SCV ratepayers and taxpayers. Ironically, Plambeck and her so-called environmental groups never joined or supported the local water suppliers’ efforts to address the single greatest environmental challenge the SCV has ever faced.
Plambeck’s biggest doozy is questioning her fellow water agency directors’ integrity by more than implying they are bought and paid for by developers and building industry political action committees. She also claims they fear developer lawsuits because “[f]or smaller agencies, the financial impact of fighting…a lawsuit can be devastating…”
Leaving aside the fact the SCV Water Agency is not a “smaller agency” (especially after the recent merger), the likelihood of a developer filing a lawsuit against it is minuscule compared to the likelihood of a lawsuit by one of her environmental activist groups. In addition to business considerations associated with litigation, developers have to weigh the consequences of losing a lawsuit because, along with paying their own attorneys, they would usually be required to reimburse the water agency for its attorney’s fees. Since environmental organizations (like Friends of the Santa Clara River and SCOPE) are deemed to represent the public trust, they are not liable for the water agency’s attorney’s fees – even when they lose. Finally, by engaging attorneys that work on a contingency basis – a more sophisticated form of ambulance chasing – they have virtually no downside in suing the water agency.
For these reasons, Plambeck and her cohorts pursued one frivolous “environmental” lawsuit after another over the years against CLWA, all intended to reduce water supply availability and reliability in their efforts to dictate land use planning in the SCV.
As a result, CLWA and its customers – that is, SCV ratepayers and taxpayers – incurred millions of dollars of legal expenses in defending these lawsuits. And over the same time, CLWA was never sued by a developer.
Plambeck’s assertion that the “…system is obviously not working to ensure adequate water supplies for existing residents [emphasis added] and protection for our water resources” is patently untrue. The system is working because the UWMP provides a complete picture of water supply and demand for both existing and planned development.
The answer to the question posed in the title of this commentary – “When Would Lynne Plambeck Ever Say There Is Enough Water?” – is: at least once. Two years ago, she voted in favor of the 2015 UWMP when both the CLWA and Newhall County Water District boards of directors voted unanimously to approve it. I doubt she forgot about her vote; however, when it comes to correct and true facts about water, she has, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “a grand memory for forgetting.”
Dan Masnada retired in 2016 as the general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.