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R.J. Kelly: Water recycling benefits everyone in the SCV

Posted: April 9, 2010 5:59 p.m.
Updated: April 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. We’re all familiar with the three Rs of the waste-reduction hierarchy, and here at Castaic Lake Water Agency we take our role in living up to this environmentally minded mantra seriously.

We conduct all of our business with an eye toward being “green,” but of course the most prominent area in which a water agency can have an impact concerns its core product — water.

So we believe in recycling it.

As we’ve said, every drop counts, not only when it comes to planning a safe, reliable supply of potable water for the Santa Clarita Valley, but also for the entire state. Recycled water has a tremendous potential, not only via its direct benefit for high-volume water uses like irrigating large landscaped areas, but also for its “trickle-up” effect.

By its very existence, recycled water creates increased availability of potable supplies, thus benefiting all users — even those who don’t directly use recycled water.

That’s why we are diligently pursuing increased use of recycled water here in the SCV, and it’s also why we could not refrain from responding to erroneous and misleading comments made by Castaic resident Brian Roney in his March 15 commentary in The Signal.

Roney based many of his arguments on an outdated Urban Water Management Plan that was created 10 years ago and has since been updated to reflect changing conditions.

He seems to be under the mistaken impression that he and all other valley residents are somehow subsidizing the recycling of water that only benefits the customers who buy it. He is further under the mistaken impressions CLWA’s recycling program benefits only “new development” and is not in the community’s best interests.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Retail customers’ water rates are not subsidizing the costs of delivering recycled water to the customers using it, including the TPC Valencia golf course, which irrigates with recycled water.

The rates recycled water customers pay cover the costs of delivering that water to them. Simply put, there is no “subsidy” for someone else’s recycled water in the retail water bill you are paying.

Roney also seems to be under the mistaken impression we have a choice when it comes to recycling. In a 21st-century California where water is becoming increasingly scarce and all water agencies are required to reduce per capita water use 20 percent by 2020, it would be irresponsible not to pursue water recycling.

To dispel the remaining misleading information in Roney’s column, it might be simplest to summarize the “how” and the “why” behind CLWA’s efforts to add recycled water to the valley’s water supply portfolio.

How we approach recycling

Since recycled water can’t simply be added to the potable supply, it’s necessary to build separate pipelines to deliver recycled water to those customers that will use it. So far, we have completed the first phase of our local water recycling program, which delivers recycled water to Valencia’s Westridge community, where it is used to irrigate the golf course, medians and other common areas.

To build the infrastructure needed to deliver recycled water — most notably, the extra set of pipes to keep the recycled water separate from the “regular” potable water — we use a combination of developer impact fees and property taxes to build the system, and we do not use water rates.  When recycled water is used by customers, they are charged a recycled water rate that pays for the operation of the system.

Those costs are not borne in customers’ retail water rates, nor is the cost of the recycled water itself. Again, the cost of recycled water is paid by the customers using it, and is not subsidized by other customers.

The first phase is of course just the beginning, and it’s important to remember that’s exactly where we are in the “big-picture” view of our recycling efforts — the beginning.

While economic circumstances over the past few years have delayed some of the demand and the implementation of water recycling, we are gearing up for the next phases of the effort to achieve our identified build-out goal of utilizing approximately 17,000 acre-feet of recycled water per year. (An acre foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep.)

Among the upcoming phases:
* One that will bring recycled water from the Sanitation Districts’ Saugus wastewater treatment plant to Central Park and other nearby customers for irrigation of playing fields and other large landscaped areas.
* One that will provide recycled water for irrigation by large existing water users on the southwestern portion of town, including College of the Canyons, California Institute of the Arts, Hart High School and Placerita Junior High School.

So, contrary to the claims Roney made in his commentary, recycled water is being deployed not just for new development but for existing customers whose irrigation needs are a good match for the use of recycled water, and in places where it can be delivered most efficiently.

Why recycled water is important
Recycled water benefits you even if you’re not using it to water your lawn. Why?

Think of the SCV’s water supply as a “common pool” of water. That pool is fed by the State Water Project, for which CLWA is the local wholesaler.

It is also fed by our own local groundwater supplies, as well as some additional sources of water CLWA has acquired in order to ensure a reliable supply of water for our valley, even in dry years.

When recycled water is used on the 18th fairway of a golf course, to water center field at your local softball diamond or to irrigate that beautiful landscaped median you just drove past, it means that much less is drawn from the common potable water pool we all share. That leaves more water in the common pool, which helps guarantee that in times of drought or other water supply crises, we will still have an adequate supply to meet the needs of local customers.

In this way, recycled water is a source of supply, and it’s our responsibility to efficiently tap all available sources to provide a reliable water supply for the Santa Clarita Valley.

Recycling also helps our valley hit water use efficiency targets that are much more than short-term drought-driven conservation efforts. As we’ve discussed before, the “20 percent by 2020” requirement calls for us to reduce our per capita water use by one-fifth within the next decade — in other words, creating an ongoing ethic of efficient water use while also finding new ways to diminish the amount of water each of us use each day.

Recycling helps us do that, and also helps us qualify for grants and other funding programs that are aimed at promoting efficient use of this precious resource.

In short, regardless of what happens with the economy, new development or any other variables, recycling is an obvious and necessary component of any effort to hit the “20 percent by 2020” target, and helps make sure we will have enough water in the common pool to meet the needs of the valley, now and in the future.

It benefits anyone who has a stake in the reliability of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water supply.

That is, all of us.

R. J. Kelly is the president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board of directors. His column reflects the agency’s views and not neces


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