Last week I received Santa Clarita’s “State of the City” spring newsletter, which contains an impressive rundown of new projects and activities the city is either offering or planning. Most are for shopping or entertainment, but there’s a page touting Santa Clarita’s 36 parks (up from seven in 1987!), which are definitely something to celebrate. Trees, greenery and open spaces make a city more attractive, cooler, and healthier for residents, and we’re fortunate the city values these natural features. What was missing in the newsletter, though, was anything about what the city might be doing to mitigate ongoing drought conditions, address climate change, or ensure that we have enough fresh water in future years.
I know the city is replacing its incandescent light bulbs with LED lights in order to reduce the use of electricity and has installed solar panels over school parking lots, and those upgrades are good for reducing emissions. But what about other things it could be doing, like installing permeable pavement, so any rainwater we get can percolate down into the aquifer? Are there plans for stormwater catchment, or bioswales and recharge areas, which also keep rainwater from washing into the ocean? There’s money from Measure W to cover some of these smart, regenerative investments, so why doesn’t the city jump on them? If they’re planned, why aren’t we hearing about them? The latest Yale Project on Climate Change Communication survey (September 2021) says that six in 10 Americans (59%) are either alarmed or concerned about global heating, so there are clearly many people who would like to know the city’s doing everything possible to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the repercussions of excess heat.
One of those repercussions is reduced availability of fresh water, and yet Santa Clarita keeps approving huge new housing developments. The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board has been considering a Stage 2 Water Supply Shortage Ordinance — and this is after deciding last month that there’s enough water to supply over 1,000 new units, indefinitely! That simply doesn’t make logical sense. We all know that with climate change, water shortages are only going to get worse. In fact, some climate scientists believe we’re in the worst drought in 1,200 years, and that it won’t end anytime soon. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that we have an existential problem that’s getting worse each year and will continue to do so until we slash emissions radically — which so far is not happening.
Given that fact, it is patently foolish to keep building new housing year after year when we’re already in deep trouble over water. Mountain snowpack provides about 30% of the yearly freshwater supply for California, and although there are years here and there when it’s almost normal, the trend is for less and less snowpack. And that pattern is expected to continue as long as climate change proceeds unabated. Many of our reservoirs are at dangerously low levels, too.
We usually get some of our local water from the state, but the state can’t give us water that it doesn’t have. That water depends on the snowpack, mentioned above. Was it last year that we got a zero allotment? Also, nearly half of our local wells have been shut down because of PFAS chemical contamination, so even our groundwater use (which provides about 40% of our water) is threatened until that situation can be fixed. We have some reserves due to water banking, but only a two-year supply, I understand. Overall, the freshwater situation is grim, but unbelievably, it isn’t being treated like a crisis.
I realize money is involved for the city in the form of taxes, and developers are no doubt putting money and influence behind all elected officials who will permit them to continue building high-end housing. That scenario enriches the developers, but what about the people who live here? The common good is rarely a priority when money is involved, but it should be. Our public servants should not be gambling with our future water supply. Water is a basic necessity for life.
We’re in a climate reality we’ve never experienced as a civilization before, and I would like to read in the next newsletter that the city has banned any new housing developments until the drought has well and truly ended, and about all the new projects Santa Clarita has in process to protect our future supply of fresh water.