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No mandatory water cutbacks expected in SCV unless winter 2014-15 is dry

Posted: July 3, 2014 6:46 p.m.
Updated: July 3, 2014 6:46 p.m.
Low water levels in Castaic Lake have led to the cancellation of Fourth of July festivities and shut the beaches for swimming. Signal photo by Dan Watson   Low water levels in Castaic Lake have led to the cancellation of Fourth of July festivities and shut the beaches for swimming. Signal photo by Dan Watson  
Low water levels in Castaic Lake have led to the cancellation of Fourth of July festivities and shut the beaches for swimming. Signal photo by Dan Watson  

Even though the water in Castaic Lake continues to recede and the protracted statewide drought deepens, local water officials say Santa Clarita Valley residents are still a year away from the possibility of mandatory water conservation.

Six months ago, members of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Committee met at City Hall and agreed to proceed with what was initially called the “Voluntary Water Conservation Action Plan” detailing outdoor and indoor water conservation guidelines.

After a bleak assessment of critical water shortages across the state presented by Dirk Marks of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, members called for and immediately agreed to drop the word “voluntary” from their action plan.

However, there is no enforcement of the guidelines. Enforcement would come with a Stage 2 Water Conservation Action Plan, committee head Steve Cole said Thursday.

“We have not reached a Stage 2,” said Cole, who is also general manager of the Newhall County Water District. “We are continuing to meet monthly and evaluating our current supplies. We will most likely not reach Stage 2 unless (the 2014-2015) winter is dry.”

With mandatory conservation comes enforcement, Cole said. “We do have enforcement capability, but our preference is to work with the individuals having the issue.”

Local water wasters could be punished with fines, he said, describing them as the “main means of enforcement.”

Asked how close Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers are to mandatory water conservation, Cole said: “It is all about this next winter — will it be wet or dry?”

Castaic Lake is proving a good barometer for assessing the drought.

In May, the water level at Castaic Lake was 1,463 feet. A month later, water officials at Castaic Lake Water Agency reported it dropping to below 1,445 feet — the point at which the agency would have to begin pumping water upward to get it out of the lake — at a cost that would be paid, ultimately, by ratepayers.

On Thursday, Marks reported the lake had dropped an additional 24 feet over the last month to a level of 1,421 feet. It is currently storing 150,400 acre-feet of water.

He said the lower the water level drops, the higher the cost of pumping water from it.

“Our current operating plans, however, are to avoid those costs by maximizing the amount of water we take through our Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant,” he said. “If our customers conserve water this summer, we would be able to avoid turning on the pumps and save about $25,000 per month.”

The reason the water level at Castaic Lake keeps dropping, in part, is the amount being “re-directed” by state officials on behalf of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California trying to meet the needs of millions of Southern California customers.

In April, at the direction of California Department of Water Resources officials, the “Met” began re-directing 30,000 acre-feet of water from Castaic Lake to Lake Perris to meet the needs of customers in that area, according to officials from both agencies.

Normally, the state allocates 1.9 million acre-feet of water for the Metropolitan Water District. This year, California’s largest water agency is getting only 100,000 acre-feet of water from the state, MWD spokesman Bob Muir said in May.

The “Met” is one of three agencies allowed to draw “flexible water” from Castaic Lake, said Andrea Glasgow, a senior engineer with the state’s Department of Water Resources. The other two are the Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Ventura County Flood Control District.

The 29 agencies that contract with the state to receive water from Northern California through the State Water Project — including the three local ones entitled to draw from Castaic Lake — have only been allocated 5 percent of the water they would normally receive this year.

The amount of water the three agencies can take out of Castaic Lake collectively is 160,000 acre-feet of water. The local water agency and the Ventura water agency can draw 4,684 acre-feet and 1,376 acre-feet of water, respectively.

The “Met” is entitled to draw 96 percent of the 160,000 allotted to the three agencies, or 153,940 acre-feet of water.

“We will continue to draw on Castaic supplies ... and draw on water as part of the 5 percent State Water Project allocation,” Muir said Thursday.

Glasgow said no one should be alarmed to see Castaic Lake diminish or surprised to see its water “re-directed” to the needs of the “big gorilla” in Los Angeles.

“This is a contract provision with the state,” she said. “This is emergency (State Water Project) water they can draw on.”

“The three agencies cannot take more flexible water next year if they take the collective limit of 160,000 acre-feet from Castaic Lake,” Glasgow said.

“Reservoirs are meant to cycle and meant to go up and down,” she said, pointing out that the reservoir at Castaic Lake was built to supply water from Northern California to Southern California.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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