Recently the city of Santa Clarita Planning Commission approved a project that would qualify as “backward planning,” planning that pays no attention to modern issues, instead using methods long abandoned by others. To me, as a member of the local Groundwater Sustainability Advisory Committee, the worst of these is the plan to concrete a portion of Bouquet Creek along with the groundwater recharge areas and blue-line stream on the property.
No project has proposed a concrete box channel since the uproar over the box channel behind Best Buy, constructed illegally by The Newhall Land and Farming Co. At that time federal and state agencies threatened to make them remove the concrete at substantial cost, but in the end only made them pay a large fine. The ugly concrete, habitat destruction and loss of groundwater recharge was allowed to remain.
Since that illegal construction over two decades ago, we have progressed through multiple droughts so severe that several water wells stopped producing, and the community suffered severe water cutbacks, dead landscaping and trees, and fines for wasted water. We know this will occur again and be worse because of the added housing. As climate warming continues, the SCV Water Agency is well aware of the predicted reductions in snowpack that will reduce our water supply from Northern California. Both the city and the water agency know we will have to rely even more on local groundwater in the future.
The state knows there is a water problem, too. That’s why the Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 and the “show me the water laws” for approving development more than a decade earlier.
But how can we improve our local water resources? One way is to ensure that we protect our groundwater recharge areas. Both the city and county know this. That is why they have applied for grants to purchase potential recharge areas and build a cistern recharge project in a Castaic park. These projects require matching funds, so hundreds of thousands of tax dollars will be going toward these projects. The city also has planned and begun a Bouquet Creek restoration project next to Central Park in one of the last remaining natural portions along this creek.
The water agency opposed using a box channel in a June 3 letter: “SCV Water has concerns about the drainage facilities proposed in the (draft environmental impact report). SCV Water recommends that to the extent possible, floodplains remain undeveloped, and if creeks and rivers are channelized, they should remain soft-bottomed. The Santa Clara River and its tributaries provide a vital water resource to the Santa Clarita Valley through the percolation of water into the local groundwater basins……SCV Water requests the city have the developer explore additional solutions to reduce impacts to the floodplain and that do not include hard-bottomed channels.”
But the Planning Commission ignored the pleas from both the community and the water agency and voted to allow the box channel to go forward, even though there are alternatives that would have avoided it. The only promise they made was that this was not to be considered a precedent.
It is clear that if we want to have sufficient water for the massive developments such as Newhall Ranch in the future and those already being constructed, we must protect our groundwater recharge areas. I urge the City Council to require alternatives that do not allow a concrete box channel and protect the recharge areas.