Many of us opposed the mega-water-district merger in Santa Clarita. We were concerned that it would essentially allow the high-spending Castaic Lake Water Agency to be in control of all the water in the valley without any of the oversight that individual water districts might provide. We were concerned that our ground water would be sent to Newhall Ranch where previously there was a law (Assembly Bill 134) forbidding that. We were concerned that the reserves of the well-run Newhall County Water District would be swallowed up by the new mega-agency and, last, that this new mega agency would control the new Ground Water Sustainability Agency.
We were told that no, the agency would be saving money by the consolidation and that a rate payer advocate would be put in place to ensure that the public would have strong oversight in any future rate setting and that the merger had nothing to do with Newhall Ranch.
Now we find that, indeed, many of our concerns were true. Former CLWA board members are the president and vice president of the board and former CLWA board members are the majority. Our ground water will indeed be used for Newhall Ranch because water for their first two tracts will come from well E-15, which currently supplies the Castaic area, instead of their farm fields. The water agency even made an agreement promising they would never say there is not enough ground water for Newhall Ranch.
And last night (Oct. 22) at a special meeting of the Finance Committee, we learned that our other fears are coming true as well. The new mega agency is considering increasing the reserve fund so they can borrow more money. They will have to raise rates to do this. What? The mega merger was supposed to save millions. If this savings is real, why are they discussing a rate increase?
They claim they need more money because the Ground Water Sustainability Agency is costing a lot. But they knew this law had passed and would go into effect last year. Why wasn’t it in their budget? What about the over $400,000 state grant that they got to help with the funding of the new GSA?
At this meeting I also learned that the long-touted “public advocate” that was supposed to give our community a voice in rate increases and other matters will be controlled by the water agency board. That is not the way offices of ratepayer advocates are set up in other agencies. How can the advocate be independent if he or she is not independent from the board? They answer is, they won’t be.
According to the discussion last night, the agency worked hard with their lobbyists in Sacramento to make sure the law was written so that the board still had control. This is not the way we understood it was going to work. So this much-advertised advantage of the merged agency is really a joke on all of us.
A recent Signal article disclosed that this agency was considering hiring lobbyists to the tune of $264,000 a year. Maybe they should reduce this bill before they consider raising rates.
This water agency is making important decisions that will affect all of us. I urge people in this valley to start attending meetings and observe what is going on. Residents routinely attend City Council meetings and comment on expenditures. Why aren’t they concerned by the huge expenditures at this water agency?