By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
While recent rains may not have been the “March Miracle” water officials were hoping for, they remain excited about the prospect of transforming the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency’s huge public garden overlooking Central Park into a highly stylized interactive theme park — the theme being water.
Members of SCV Water’s Water Resources and Watershed Committee got a sneak preview of the interactive garden recently when details of the plan were unveiled.
Committee member Bill Cooper called it an “excellent presentation,” likening some aspects of it to a “Sea World” experience, entertaining for kids.
Other committee members also praised the proposed Water Conservation Garden and Education Experience Project.
BJ Atkins: “Brilliant concept.”
Jerry Gladbach: “I’m in awe of the design.”
Doors to the interactive garden — which comes with a price tag of between $3.2 and $3.5 million — could swing open as early as the end of next year.
Between now and then, however, garden designers are expected to tweak their plans, tailoring them to the directives and concerns of the SCV Water board.
They expect to get final approval for the project from the board in early 2023 and finish building it by that fall.
“The board will be ready for it when you’re ready,” Committee Chair Jeff Ford assured the staff.
The mission of the project is simple: Educate the public on the value of water.
“We are excited about the potential for this plan to really give visitors an understanding of their place in the interconnected water system across the state,” said agency spokeswoman Kathie Martin.
The plans are purely conceptual, she noted.
“We are in an early stage of the project,” she said. “We are excited, though, to bring new life to our conservatory garden, which has been a source of water education for local students for more than 25 years.”
News of the project, on the night of its big unveiling, was refreshing for committee members who had just finished sitting through an hourlong update on the worst drought in 1,200 years.
Then came the feature attraction — the unveiling of the new garden.
The agency’s Water Conservation Specialist Julia Grothe, part of the design team, called the garden’s “general design flow” a “global to state to local water use and conservation.”
The interactive garden tells the story of SCV’s water supply in two main exhibits — water brought here from Northern California as part of the State Water Project and water pumped from local aquifers.
Garden visitors exploring the State Water Project exhibit would be able to use an “interactive water and fiber-optic teaching tool” to see how melted snow from the Sierra Nevadas ends up as water delivered to the Santa Clarita Valley.
“You can press a button that models different weather conditions — normal water year, wet year and dry year or drought year,” Grothe said. “This will trigger a valve to open and water to flow through the model with fiber optic lighting the path to show how the water flows through the State Water Project system.”
The second main attraction — the local aquifer exhibit — would allow visitors to look through peepholes and see for themselves how underground water works in the SCV.
“It’s a topographic model of our valley above ground,” Grothe said. “And shows our two aquifers — the alluvial and Saugus Aquifer — underground.”
Pointing to the aquifer, she said it would be filled with resin “to give the illusion of water while allowing you to peer into the aquifer and see how large it is.”
When the presentation finished, garden designers invited questions.
Committee Member Ed Colley had one: He suggested designers rethink their “bee hotel” plans.
“I heard bee hotels and children which concerns me a little bit,” he said. “There are children that are quite allergic to bees so we ought to think hard about that.”
Designers included plans for a bee hotel to illustrate how crucial bees are when it comes to pollinating plants.
The agency’s Sustainability Manager Matt Dickens, part of the four-member design team, promised to research the bee concern.
“My understanding on the bee hotels is that they’re specifically geared towards native bees, which are solitary bees and ground-dwelling bees, so they’re not swarming bees,” he said.
Colley, however, wanted more assurance the exhibit would be safe. “Do these bees that live in the bee hotels sting children?”
“Yes, some species do, some do not,” Grothe told him. “But, generally they are not aggressive.”
She suggested moving the exhibit further back so that kids couldn’t “reach in and touch them.”
“We could create a crisis, needlessly,” Colley said. “So, I’d like us to think hard about that.”