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Lynne Plambeck: Watering on a wish and a prayer

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: May 13, 2009 8:46 p.m.
Updated: May 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
A Signal article last week quoted Dan Masnada, general manager of Castaic Lake Water Agency, as saying there would be adequate water to serve Newhall Land's Newhall Ranch development.

We, of course, wonder why the head of a local public water agency is speaking on behalf of a private developer, especially one whose project approval was conditioned to not use the very State Water Project water that Mr. Masnada's agency supplies, due to concerns over availability of that water.

Whatever the reason for Newhall Land's odd choice of a spokesperson, the issue of water for Newhall Ranch remains high on the list of concerns for this new project proposal.

With state water supply cutbacks continuing to loom in the future, we all need to ask questions about water for Newhall Ranch.

On the same news day, The Signal reported the plight of the Delta Smelt, which scientists have determined is a bellwether indicator for the health of the Sacramento Delta, source of the State Water Project water.

Although cutbacks intended to save this species are often ridiculed by many in the water industry, others view these cutbacks as a way to move towards much needed water conservation and efficiency.

It is a well-known fact among water professionals that climate change is upon us and that California water supplies will continue to diminish along with the Sierra snowpack that is their source. Many of us wonder why the state would vote to appropriate $9 billion in its current dire economic state to build a new peripheral canal when the problem really is the lack of water to put in that canal. Those who complain about government overspending and inefficiencies should certainly be asking themselves about such a huge expenditure.

So, thank you, Judge Wanger, for making a hard decision that eludes our state legislators.

For the long-term health and sustainability of all those that rely on the Delta including the environment, fisherman, farmers and urban areas, we must all face the reality of finding a way to live with less water. It's just as well that we get started right now.

This fact was apparent even in 2003 when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan on a split vote.

That is why Supervisor Antonovich specifically conditioned his approval of the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan on not receiving state water from Northern California.

The fact is, with 30,000 additional units already approved in the SCV but not yet built, and water problems already increasing throughout the Southland, there is little doubt that water supplies for 21,000 additional units will be a huge question mark.

The Santa Clara River is not an "adjudicated basin." That means ownership of the groundwater on which Newhall claims it will rely to supply Newhall Ranch is not divided up or owned by anyone.

If water for previously approved projects is not sufficient to provide for units already approved, then water from the Ranch area must be used to supply these units.

In a little-noticed agenda item earlier this year, Castaic Lake Water Agency arranged to purchase Newhall Ranch's priority position to pump water from the Kern Water Bank, where CLWA stored water for drought back-up supplies.

They needed the water to supply current residents, but couldn't get it out because their water storage agreement did not provide for a pumpback priority. If such arrangements must be negotiated now, even before building all the previously approved tracts, what in the world will we do when so many new houses come on line?

The environmental community, along with many downstream users, has long raised concerns that Santa Clarita is far outstripping its water supply. Required reports submitted to local officials routinely optimistically overestimated future supplies.

Water quality issues are ignored, and overdraft of our ground water basin also continues to be ignored.

Unlike other jurisdictions that are all too aware of the pending crisis, our city and county officials refuse to hire competent staff to independently evaluate the water situation.

Instead they claim they must rely on the water agencies in spite of multiple court decisions stating the contrary, i.e. that it is the city and the county that have the final say.

Apparently, like the three monkeys that cover their ears, eyes and mouth in order to not know any evil, our city and county will ignore the impending water crisis until it is too late and our community and local businesses are hit with severe water rationing.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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