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Cam Noltemeyer: Do more to protect our water supply

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 29, 2010 7:37 p.m.
Updated: December 30, 2010 4:30 a.m.

This rainy New Year’s holiday presents a gift, an opportunity and a question. 

The rain (and snow in the mountains) is a gift that is helping to replenish our water supply and improve water quality.
As rain fills the Santa Clara River and turns our hillsides green, it also is recharging our local groundwater aquifers and is flushing out the chloride salts that caused such a heated debate earlier this year.

But as the river is narrowed by berms and filling the floodplain, the velocity at which this water moves out of our community has increased dramatically.

When floodwater flows to Ventura, it now takes only half that time. Such an increase in flood-flow rates not only increases erosion, but also dramatically reduces groundwater recharge, i.e., water doesn’t have as much time to sink into the ground where we can retrieve it later from our local water wells.

Are we missing this opportunity for local self-reliance?

As other jurisdictions and California as a whole begin looking at storm water runoff as an asset as valuable as gold, our own community, blessed with a watershed that is still natural in many areas, seems to be rushing toward a reckless waste of this precious resource.

While the city of Los Angeles had just passed its long-awaited storm-water ordinance that will ensure new retention requirements, and Riverside County is now mapping its recharge areas to ensure water neutral development, increased local supply and improved water quality, our own City Council persists in allowing developers to fill in and pave over our river and tributary floodplains.

Local environmental organizations including the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, Friends of the Santa Clara River and the Sierra Club have long spoken out against this practice.

SCOPE adamantly opposed the West Creek and North Valencia II projects because of the incursion into San Francisquito Creek, the potential flooding and the loss of local recharge for our water supply.

But while the development on the county (west) side of the creek at least preserved some of the floodplain, the city’s annexed east side floodplain is almost nonexistent, lined by a soil cement embankment that eliminates groundwater recharge and failed in the first large storm after it was built. The city allowed maximum development by filling the floodplain instead of safeguarding long-term water sustainability.

San Francisquito Creek is one of the Santa Clara River’s major tributaries and biggest contributors to our local water supply. These poor land-use decisions result in a lost opportunity to protect our local water supplies and promote regional water self-sufficiency.

Local water self-sufficiency is not only important for the environment; it also is important to our household budgets.

Water imported from Northern California through 400 miles of concrete aqueduct, high in salts and pesticides, is expensive to transport and expensive to clean.

Have you noticed the ever-increasing Castaic Lake Water Agency (imported water) portion of your monthly water bill? 

The only way to slow this upward trend is to protect our local water supplies by protecting our floodplains and recharge areas. 

So one can only wonder why the city is even considering the Vista Canyon development proposal in its present configuration.

While the county would only allow 700 units in this area, the city wants to annex and nearly double the amount of allowable units to 1,350 right in the middle of a general plan update. But even worse, the proposal calls for filling in the floodplain with 500,000 cubic yards of imported dirt to raise the height of the floodplain.    

As we move forward with the so-called One Valley, One Vision general plan update, the county once again seems to be making more of an effort to protect the ground water supplies.

I am told that our County Planning Commissioner Pat Modugno, along with another commissioner, asked that groundwater recharge areas be identified in the county portion of the plan. Will the city now step forward, too, and protect our groundwater recharge areas in our plan?

One can only hope that after all the recent uproar over the increase in connection fees and the rising cost of our water bills, the city, too, will step up to the plate and make a commitment for the long-term sustainability of our water supply.

General plan public hearings will resume in January, and the next Vista Canyon project hearing is in February. We hope you will attend these hearings and make your voice heard in the new year.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a board member of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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