Leon Worden

Should we ration our water supplies?

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, October 28, 1998

rive around this valley and you notice two things. One is all the road work that's going on, and since we barely have any roads, it takes forever to get from here to there.

Two is the tremendous amount of commercial and residential development. The Valencia Town Center is nearly complete, shops are opening in Stevenson Ranch by the minute, and hills east of State Route 14 are being graded for new housing.

Much of the current development was approved by Los Angeles County, both before and after Santa Clarita became a city. An estimated 40,000 residential units have been approved that have not yet, or are just now being, built.

They go hand-in-hand. Roads and growth, that is. Typically, a developer will initially build small access roads so the first homes can be built. He pays road fees, and when enough money has accumulated, the roads are widened.

The roads around the Town Center mall are good examples. They were narrow at first, and now they've been widened to accommodate shoppers.

Before city formation, the county didn't make developers pay enough to build roads. It left our valley with many new homes and residents, but too few roads. It's a big reason we created this city in 1987.

Today our City Council makes developers pay at least enough money, if not more, to build the roads needed to handle the new traffic. But we're still playing catch-up.

It's similar with schools. Developers set aside land for a school if the housing project warrants one. The developer pays school fees, and the school is built. At least in theory.

The county was lax in making developers pay for schools in the 1980s. Today even the county is better about making developers reach agreements with school districts.

Water. With water, developers pay "connection fees" so they can hook the homes up to a water supply. But there's a twist.

We'll always have enough asphalt to build roads, and while new environmental regulations are cutting into the logging industry, we probably don't have to worry about there being enough timber to build schools. But water in Southern California is a finite resource.

Unlike roads and schools, if you provide water to a new development and you don't increase the overall water supply, you're taking it away from someone else who already uses it. The result is rationing.

One need look no farther than Santa Barbara for a prime example of bad water planning. Many years ago, Santa Barbarans elected not to connect to the State Water Project, which provides fresh drinking water from up north. In the 1980s and early '90s, there wasn't enough water for everyone to take a shower or do dishes. Lawns died. And cars? Wash a car, pay a fine.

That hasn't happened in Santa Clarita, despite our harsher climate. Local land owners in the 1960s decided to hook up to State Water, in order to secure an ample supply of good, clean water as our valley grew. In 1962 they formed the Upper Santa Clara Water Agency and started pumping potable water from the Feather River.

Today that water provider is called the Castaic Lake Water Agency. Castaic Lake is where Northern California water is stored before it is purified and pumped to our faucets.

At various times over the last 30 years, as the county and now the city approved new residential and commercial development, the agency has purchased water entitlements from other State Water contractors. By increasing the overall supply of drinking water the agency has ensured that this valuable resource would not be taken away from existing residents to support the needs of new development.

Along the way, the agency has made developers and new residents pay for their water, because current residents shouldn't — and by law can't — be forced to pay for the needs of new development.

There is a group of people running in next Tuesday's Castaic Lake Water board election who want to stop the agency from purchasing new water entitlements. They don't seem to grasp the simplest of concepts: Growth is happening right now, and without new water supplies — which new development would end up paying for — some of our water will have to be taken away from current water users and funneled to new development.

Don't let developers and the so-called "reform candidates" force us to ration our water. Instead vote for Richard Balcerzak for the at-large seat, and Don Froelich, Peter Kavounas or Randall Pfiester for the other seat, depending on your district.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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