SCV NEWSMAKER OF THE WEEK:
Lynne Plambeck & Barbara Dore
Newhall County Water Board
Interview by Leon Worden
Signal City Editor
Sunday, March 7, 2004
(Television interview conducted Feb. 18, 2004)
"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal City Editor Leon Worden. The half-hour program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.|
This week's newsmakers are Newhall County Water District board members Lynne Plambeck and Barbara Dore. Plambeck, the board president, voted to adopt a resolution declaring Newhall County's lack of confidence in the valley's Urban Water Management Plan. Dore voted against the resolution.
The following interview was conducted Feb. 18. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: How long have you been on the board, and what do you do for a living?
Plambeck: This is my third term on Newhall County Water District. I was elected president this year (and) I'm excited to be having that opportunity to serve in that way. I own a small business in Burbank. It's a family business, I'm third generation, and I recycle motion picture film.
Dore: I am currently in my sixth year, my second term on the water board. I was elected in 1997 the first time. I do manufacturing accounting for a living. I've been doing it for a number of years, and right now I'm working for a manufacturing company that manufactures seals and O-rings and gaskets for airplanes, primarily.
Signal: There seem to be two sides when it comes to water in this valley. Both sides argue that the other wants to control the water supply to control growth either to promote it or to stifle it. How do you see yourself in that equation?
Dore: I don't think it's an issue of growth. I think it's an issue of planning. I think that whatever growth is going to happen, is not going to be our decision to make. It's not even the state's decision, really, or the county's decision or any of the cities' decision. We're not out there soliciting new residents all over the country. But people move here, and people have children here, and growth is a result of those things. We have to plan for that whether we like it or not.
Plambeck: It doesn't have anything to do with controlling water to control growth. It has to do, for myself, very much that a planner cannot make a good decision about how to grow or where to grow without good information. So it's absolutely critical that the planners are given correct information and not overstated information. That's No. 1. And then, for us to continue to put our heads in the ground about water being an issue and not just in Santa Clarita but throughout the state of California is to not address the problem. ... Water is a finite source, and we are overdrafting our aquifers all over the state, all over the nation. It's very much affecting the Sacramento Delta to bring greater and greater amounts of water down from the north, so we're affecting our farmland, and we aren't addressing these issues with vision because we're pretending they don't exist. They do exist.
Signal: What has changed? During periods of statewide drought in the 1970s, '80s, '90s, we didn't have to ration water here. Why worry now?
Dore: We are very lucky to have a groundwater source. We are very lucky to have that aquifer. There were many places in the state where they only have one source of supply, which is imported water. It's much worse in those places than it is in the Santa Clarita Valley. We're very lucky.
Plambeck: However, what we relied on in the last drought was the Saugus aquifer, and the Saugus aquifer is polluted. We cannot produce from the wells that we used to provide this population with in 1991. ... And that's one of the things that three of our board members strongly believed: That we need to say that that water is no longer available until it comes back online.
Signal: About half of our valley's water is imported state water. The other half is groundwater that comes from the shallow alluvial aquifer and the deeper Saugus formation. When you mention pollution, you're referring to perchlorate contamination from the Bermite property, primarily in the Saugus formation. The Saugus doesn't move a lot, so the pollution is localized, isn't it?
Plambeck: Well, you have pollutant levels as high as 58,000 ppb under the Bermite property. Obviously, that has moved off the Bermite property, because we have it in our wells that have had to be closed down. And the wells are in a larger area. Now they have found it in the Saugus formation even as far out as the PONY League fields, so it is moving.
Signal: How much water is there in the Saugus formation?
Dore: The total amount was estimated at 6 million acre-feet in 1972, but (Richard) Slade believes that about 1.6 million acre-feet is usable water. .. Slade is the hydrologist who has done most of the work out here on characterizing the aquifers and looking at how they are recharged and what the pumping levels should be...
Signal: The Saugus formation spans a wide area
Dore: Fifty-eight square miles of surface area.
Signal: The perchlorate contamination is directly around the Bermite property, and if it has indeed spread
Plambeck: Not "if," it did. It's in the most recent Army Corps report.
Signal: Couldn't you drill into the Saugus formation far away from Bermite to get more water?
Plambeck: Well, that has been Valencia Water Co.'s argument, that you could. But since it seems to be moving in a westerly direction, there is a concern that they might be pulling the pollution into the rest of the aquifer. ... It might take awhile, but to even take the chance of polluting the whole groundwater source that way is not probably a good one.
Dore: But what we want to do is take the wells that are currently off-line and put in well-head treatments so that we treat the water as it comes out of the ground which is being done in the San Gabriel Valley in a number of different places. There (are) a couple of different technologies that are available. And I don't think we'll use the same one they're using in San Gabriel, because they have access to a waste discharge line that we don't have. But if you pump the wells that are currently showing pollution levels and treat it, then the effect is to keep it from going any further than those wells...
Signal: How close are we to having these treatment systems in place?
Dore: A year. 2005.
Plambeck: That's a "maybe." And that's our concern that there's a lot of things that could go wrong. For instance, one of the processes that they want to use is a biological process. They've never used that process before. It's my understanding, the (California) Department of Health Services requires two years of testing before they allow that to be served to the public. I don't know that they've changed their law from that. So I don't understand how we're going to have them on next year...
Signal: All the current water plans call for tapping the alluvium as much as possible before you drill into the Saugus formation.
Dore: Right. And in general the alluvium is a shallow aquifer. The water moves fairly quickly, for underground water, which is pretty slow so you want to take the water. Because if you don't take it today, it will be gone tomorrow.
Signal: One point of contention is how much it can be pumped. Is the alluvium drying up because we've concreted too much of the valley, or is it actually expanding because people are recharging the aquifer when they sprinkle imported state water onto their lawns?
Dore: I think 32,000 acre-feet (10.4 billion gallons annually) of water coming into the valley from the State Water Project has to be recharge in some fashion. Some portion of that has to go to recharge the alluvial (aquifer) and the Saugus formation as well. It doesn't all just sit on the surface. We water our lawns. It's rain, to the ground, just as if it came from the clouds above. And it's 32,000 acre-feet. That's a tremendous amount of water that's coming into this valley. Half of it is used for landscape irrigation; half of it goes through our household plumbing. There has to be recharge there.
Plambeck: The half that goes through the plumbing ends up mostly in the sanitation district that goes down (the river) past Magic Mountain. So we don't get it in this end of the valley. And that's a bone of contention
Dore: And that's an important use for it, too. To have the water flowing in the river is not a bad thing, either.
Plambeck: Except that it's not in the part of the valley that needs recharge. And the sanitation districts have stopped putting it in, even at Bouquet (Canyon Road), so we don't have the benefit of recharge from that.
Dore: On the east side.
Plambeck: Yes. And that's one of the big issues.
Dore: We could do projects in the river. We could put berms in and slow the water down so that it all soaks in instead of flowing down further. That would be definitely a good thing.
Signal: Are you doing that? Are you changing the river so it will recharge better?
Plambeck: The other part of it is this issue of watering lawns: Mostly the water disappears in transpiration. You're watering the lawn to make the grass grow. The grass is what's absorbing the water. You're not having that sink in like a rainstorm that goes deep down into the ground and then recharges the river.
Signal: So is the alluvium drying up?
Plambeck: The alluvium is absolutely drying up. We had average rainfalls over the last three years, and our well levels in the eastern basin are going down.
What happens when you start to lose your recharge is you lose the connectivity of the groundwater and the surface flow, so it's more difficult to recharge off of surface flow. And you see die-back of vegetation. If you go over and look at the river, you'll see the die-back of the riparian vegetation. You'll see this huge, desert-like area in the center. And it's getting wider and wider. That's an indication of overpumping, as well.
Dore: The well levels on the east side that we get (reports on) every month haven't gone down for four years. They've been exactly the same for four years.
Plambeck: I hope you'll look at the charts. We have charts of the three Pinetree wells. And that's even after average rainfall. We had one short year and two regular years, and the wells are still going down.
Signal: Everyone uses the same water availability reports by Richard Slade, but you read them differently. What figures show you, Lynne, that there is less water available, than you see, Barbara?
Dore: Well it's not Slade, because Slade says over and over and over that the aquifer is not in overdraft. He has to say it 15 different times in the 2001 report.
Plambeck: I don't know where he's talking about ... because they're not looking at this part of the basin very closely, and I think they don't care at all about Newhall County Water District's wells in Pinetree. And Slade admits that the eastern part of the basin is in trouble.
Dore: Slade says that the eastern part of the basin is much more responsive to precipitation than the west part of the basin.
Plambeck: It's not just the eastern part. It's everybody on wells. A groundwater basin is like a lake. If you put a pipe in the middle of the lake, it's the edges that recede first, so if you're out on the edge with a pipe, you're going to be in trouble before the person in the middle. ... That's what is happening in the Santa Clara River. The people on the edges, the people (who) are up in the tributaries in Sand Canyon, in San Francisquito Canyon, our eastern wells, the people up in Agua Dulce and to say that the basin is not connected, it's really not true. It's a river. Of course it's connected. If they take out more water up there, (there is) going to be less for us to get down here.
Signal: The new resolution withdraws NCWD's support for the Urban Water Management Plan. What is the Urban Water Management Plan, and why don't you like it?
Plambeck: The Urban Water Management Plan is supposed to indicate to planners how much water is available now, and in five-year increments. The Urban Water Management Plan basically has one chart ... that says there is a tremendous amount of water available that's really, actually not there. It says, interestingly enough and in the face of obvious common sense it says that in a drought period, we will have almost twice the amount of water than we will have in a regular wet year.
Dore: But that's because we have 105,000 acre-feet of water that would come from water banking.
Plambeck: Where, Barbara? What water banking? We don't have any contracts for that water banking.
Dore: Right. We actually do have two contracts for water banking, for short-term, 10-year contracts with Kern County.
Signal: Please explain water banking.
Dore: Water banking is taking state water when it's available, and putting it away somewhere. To me, one of the main problems about water supply is not transmission, and it's not the quantity that's available, it's storage. If we have some place to put water closer to us ... then when state water is available ... we can take all that water, even when we don't need it, and we can put it in a water bank, which is an underground aquifer that has capacity. And the reason is has capacity is because it's been pumped really hard for a long time...
The Kern County Semitropic Water Bank has about 1 million acre-feet of storage available. In 2002, (Castaic Lake Water Agency) put 21,000 acre-feet in, and then this year we're going to put about 30,000 acre-feet in. So the reason that there's twice as much water in the drought years in the Urban Water Management Plan is because we're drawing on that water-banked water for the dry year. That's the purpose of having the water in the water bank: so that we can use it when we don't have state water during a current dry year and we don't want to pump the groundwater over its safe yield.
Plambeck: Except when the plan was made, we had no water in the bank. But we reported we had water in the bank. We reported we had a lot of water in the bank
Dore: 105,000 acre-feet
Plambeck: And it was interesting to have worked on putting that record together. Because there's this wonderful Black & Vietch document that says it was just a scribble when they were taking notes I can produce this for you if you'd like me to but it was quite incredible. It said, "Water amount," and then it said, "firming supplies," and it said, "(question mark)," and it said, "add what we need to make the total." it was incredible. So what they did was pull it out of thin air
Signal: Who was this?
Plambeck: Black & Vietch (was) the engineering firm that put together the Urban Water Management Plan.
Signal: The lead agency for the Urban Water Management Plan was CLWA, and Newhall County participated in it and endorsed it at the time.
Plambeck: Well, I voted against it because I didn't think the figures were proper.
Signal: And you, Barbara, voted for it.
Dore: Yes. Let's talk about the 105,000 acre-feet of water banking again. The Urban Water Management Plan has a 20-year window. It's a look forward 20 years. The purpose of it is to identify today the sources that you will need 20 years from now. And if you have the sources today that you're going to need 20 years from now, you have wasted a lot of money. You have to identify them and make sure, because planning takes a long time, there's a lot you have to do in order to make this happen. ... CLWA has signed a memorandum of understanding with Chino about water banking. But one of the reasons there is no long-term water banking contract right now is because of the litigation that takes place. There are issues
Plambeck: You just said there were two water banking (contacts), so how can the litigation
Dore: Long-term. We have short-term only.
Plambeck: Nobody made any deals, Barbara. Nobody made any deals (for long-term storage). And I think the litigation helped force (CLWA) to make the deals. So I'm excited about the litigation. I'm excited that it caused (CLWA) to say, "Oh my gosh, we really don't have this water."
Dore: Oh, I don't think it did at all.
Plambeck: I think it did. Because they were not even out there actually looking for water until then. But Urban Water Management Plan doesn't require a 20-year look. It requires existing, five years, 10 years, 20 years. That's not in the plan. What's in the plan is one table that has all this hypothetical water in it. It's totally useless to a planner. He looks at it and he thinks everything is wonderful. He doesn't know that some of that water doesn't exist and may never exist.
Signal: Do we have, will we be able to get, enough state water to support more growth in this valley?
Plambeck: There are some huge issues with state water. There is Planning and Conservation League litigation that set aside the EIR for the state water that's supposed to come down. ... And the purpose of taking a harder look at that is because it's going to affect farming in the Central Valley, which is our breadbasket. So we really need to be careful that we are not taking too much water from the Central Valley to provide urban sprawl in L.A. And I call it urban sprawl because, to me, I think we could be a lot more careful and productive if we were using smart-growth solutions which wouldn't require so much water. And if we can't use smart growth, we darned well ought to do a lot better on conservation.
Signal: The figures show we can rely on over 30 percent of our state water 90 percent of the time, and over 50 percent, 80 percent of the time. What does that mean?
Dore: That means that eight years out of 10, we will get at least 50 percent or more at least 50 percent of our allocation.
Plambeck: And that's what we put in our resolution. And that is what the courts have required that you use in your planning documents.
Signal: So what does the resolution mean to developers, whether it's someone who wants to expand a house, or Newhall redevelopment, or the Hart district that wants to build Northlake High School in Castaic?
Dore: We don't know yet.
Plambeck: It doesn't mean anything to the school districts because we have already said several times, to everybody, that we will supply the schools. ... And I think that we've made it clear that we don't want to impact somebody adding a bathroom or one house...
Signal: The city of Santa Clarita and most local school districts oppose the resolution. What do you think of their protestations?
Plambeck: I think it's very interesting. I wonder what the school districts would think if Newhall County Water District were to go to the school district when they approve something and say, "Hey, you made that school too small. Hey, you don't know what you're talking about, about the capacity in that school." I mean, if the shoe were on the other foot, I think it would be laughable. So I don't know what they're doing, coming to our water district and saying, "You have no right to report the water from water reports that have been approved by hydrologists in this valley."
Signal: Barbara, what do you think of the implications of this resolution?
Dore: I'm not sure what the implications of the resolution are going to be, but I have a serious problem with the table, the numbers in the resolution, because I think that we have a water supply that will be sufficient for us for a long time to come. I think that for Newhall County Water District to sit back and look at each of these (requests for new hookups) on a case-by-case basis, it will not serve our customers well, and we will end up losing territory as a result of this, because all they have to do is de-annex from us. There is water pipe in the ground from the other retailers close by, normally. So the people (who) are going to get hurt are the people (who) can't do that, the infills, and Newhall. And I'm worried about Castaic. It's growing very fast. That's really the main area that's growing in our service territory.
Plambeck: The infill as you know, we already approved the (city's Newhall) Community Center so I think the infill is something that is not going to be a problem. Infill can be resolved with tradeoffs, at the very most.
Dore: Our job is to provide water. That's our only job. Our job is to provide water. If we don't have enough water, we need to put plans in place to increase the supply. That's our job.
Signal: If a developer comes to you and you decide there isn't enough water, what will you do? Drill into the Saugus formation to increase your supply and charge the developer for it? Buy more state water from CLWA?
Plambeck: I think that that's an option, but as I said before ... we may not be able to drill into the Saugus. And the planners need to know that when they're approving these projects. It may be that the water can come back online and be healthy and clean for public use at a time in the future. And then our resolution says, immediately we will move it back into the "existing" (supply) column. And when that would happen, then we would be able to provide.
But the county of Los Angeles, for almost 20 years now, has had a Development Monitoring System, which includes water, which says exactly what we're saying: If we don't have a water supply, then a project should be either delayed, downsized, or denied. That's what the Development Monitoring System says for the county of Los Angeles. It does not say you invent water that's not there so that you can get your project approved.
Signal: What are the implications if Newhall county breaks off from the rest of the water community, which has been a fairly cohesive group? Shouldn't we have cohesive water planning in this valley?
Plambeck: here are reasons why you don't have cohesive water planning. For one reason, in many of our areas, you can't get recycled water, so it's important for the planners to know that that you can't approve a project based on being able to get recycled water to it because it's not there.
But the other reason is ... this idea of one entity controlling the water figures has really occurred since 1998, and it has occurred because (The Newhall Land and Farming Co.) was having trouble getting its developments approved. And if you look at the series of EIRs, it started in about 1995. The 1995 EIR said there's 25,000 acre-feet available for Valencia Water Co. for their projects for the Shea development in San Francisquito Canyon and for Westridge, ... and for Arbor Park, ... which is now North Valencia I. And then suddenly, about 1998 and those projects were reporting "potential significant impact." Well, if there's a significant impact for water, they weren't going to get their projects approved. So the next EIRs started reporting 45,00 acre-feet available. No new sources in the valley. Just now suddenly another 25,000 acre-feet appear.
And that's the problem. ... Instead of saying, "Oh my gosh, we are really having a water problem in this valley, we need to look at new sources, we need to look at conservation, we need to approve only with low-flow toilets or permeable concrete, we need to stop concreting our tributaries" they said, "Oh no, here's some more water. We'll just invent it. We'll just pull it out so we can get our approvals." And that's when it started being that Valencia (Water Co.) had to control the information.
So I think it's very important that we have a voice of elected (Newhall County) is the only elected groundwater agency in this valley. It has been in existence since 1954. And this issue of, people will go elsewhere, is actually not true. Because Valencia will have to show, before the (California) Public Utilities Commission, that they are able to serve. They will have to go through the same sort of very rigorous process that we will have to go through.
Dore: That presupposes that we really don't have the water supply that I think we have. I think, since we are all pumping out of the same source of water, it's very important that we all combine our resources and our efforts.
There's a lot of good brain power on the CLWA board. You have a lot of engineering types there. And they are concerned about good science. They are concerned about technology, making sure that what's done is done cost-effectively. They are really just interested in making sure that when the people are moving into the houses that are being built, they will have a water supply just like we had when we moved in to our houses.
Signal: In terms of water, how much more growth can our valley sustain?
Dore: In the Urban Water Management Plan, right now we're using about 70,000 acre-feet. The demand goes up to 102,000. So that's another, I don't know, 150,000 people.
Plambeck: I think we're right on the edge now. And that's why we were worried.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.