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Agency mulls water act

Multi-billion-dollar water bond leaves local agency with questions

Posted: February 16, 2010 10:29 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The Castaic Lake Water Agency board members tabled a motion to support the largest water bond act in California history last week, saying they are waiting for other agencies to first take the plunge.

They particularly want to see what the State Water Contractors Association Board has to say about the $11 billion Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Act of 2010 before they back it. The act will go before voters in November.

"We tabled it to get better clarification," Board President R.J. Kelly said.

The act, part of the follow-through from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's sweeping 2009 Comprehensive Water Package, proposes an $11.1 billion bond that would mostly go to conservation and water-supply improvements statewide.

About $3 billion would go to water storage projects. About $2.25 billion would be dedicated to sustainability efforts in the delta. Another $1.8 billion would go to conservation projects in mostly coastal areas. And $1.25 billion would go to water recycling and water conservation.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is bursting at the seams with old, earthen levees that are vulnerable to earthquakes. The delta has recently been susceptible to regulation as well as environmental concerns that have brought about changes to when and where water can be pumped into or out of the wide expanse of land in Northern California.

The State Water Project provides half of Santa Clarita Valley's water supply, and it's all routed through the delta now.

Some board members think the bond measure could solve only half of the problems. The other half would be another multi-billion-dollar project to divert State Water Project water around the delta, thus bypassing the many issues it presents.

The State Water Contractors Association Board is made up of representatives from the 29 agencies that participate in the project. Castaic Lake Water Agency General Manager Dan Masnada is a member.

The infrastructure hasn't been significantly updated in decades, he said.

"There's a lot of catch-up that needs to be done," Masnada said. "There are people that are going to squawk, ‘Look at the economy.' But this is one of those things that's not whether can you afford to do it. It's can you afford not to do it?"

Board member B.J. Atkins said the bond measure is "absolutely critical."

Atkins said a series of regulations passed after the water system was created have complicated water delivery.

Passage of the act "will improve environmental quality in the delta and help equip the water industry with the tools needed to operate the system under this new philosophy," Atkins said.

Some board members raised an eyebrow at the bond package's contents.

Board Vice President Peter Kavounas was concerned about the potential "environmental pork" spending in the bond.

"I don't know of that to be a fact but we need to make sure that's not part of it," Kavounas said.

Board members agreed that this bond was a necessary first step to ensure the safety and accessibility of California's water supply.
"We're in favor of some type of clean water act," Kelly said.

Masnada said he expected the water agency board to review the act more thoroughly in the next month or two, and decide then whether to back it.


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