Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor
Sunday, September 26, 2004
(Television interview conducted September 15, 2004)
"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The 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 Bill Cooper and Ed Dunn, the two candidates for the Division 1 seat on the Castaic Lake Water Agency board in the Nov. 2 election. Cooper is the incumbent and Dunn is the challenger.
Voters in Divisions 2 will pick between incumbent Jerry Gladbach and challenger Paula Olivares, while voters in Division 3 will pick between incumbent Bill Pecsi and challenger David Lutness.
The debate was taped Sept. 15. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: Tell us about yourself. What qualifies you to be a member of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board?
Cooper: I've been a resident of the community for 32 years. In my real life, my working life, I work for the Metropolitan Water District and have for almost 35 years now. I've been involved in the water industry for that 35 years as a water treatment plant operator, a manager of water treatment facilities, and in my current position I manage, I'm the water treatment section manager for Metropolitan, overseeing the management of five of the largest water treatment plants in the United States with a combined capacity of about 2.5 billion gallons a day.
I've been involved in the community a number of community programs: Child and Family Center, I serve on the board; I've been involved with Bassing for Abused Children and the mayor's task force on teen drug and alcohol abuse. I'm hoping that I can bring some of the experience that I've gained over the years in the water industry to the Castaic board and provide that back to the community.
Dunn: I'm a 35-year resident of Canyon Country and my wife and I raised five children here, and (they) went to the local schools. I'm an ex-aerospace engineer ... and worked for the Air Force for a number of years and then went into aerospace itself from the Air Force. That got me around the country and around the world, in some of my duties there. So I have a lot of technical experience I can bring to the water agency, and I'm looking forward to doing that.
Also, I have served on two boards: I've served a four-year term on the Newhall County Water District board, and I've also served a term on the Castaic Lake Water Agency board. So I'm quite experienced with the Castaic Lake Water Agency and many of its directors (who) are there. And I've been attending the water meetings in this community for, now, nearly 20 years, and when I say the meetings, it's not just the monthly board meetings; (it's) also the committee meetings. So I'm quite knowledgeable about what's going on in the community with water, and I'd like to see the opportunity to bring reliability to the water and possibly bring local control to our water supply and accountability locally.
Signal: What is the mission of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, and is the agency fulfilling it?
Dunn: Well, the mission statement goes something like, "to supply quality and reliable water at a reasonable cost," and I believe that Castaic Lake Water Agency, from observing the Castaic Lake Water Agency over all these years, misses most of those points.
The mission statement would be better stated that it can serve some water, some of the time, and it's really an expensive cost. I say that basically because of the expenses Castaic Lake Water Agency goes through in order to operate their agency. There could be much overhaul. There could be a major makeover of the agency.
I basically like the directors and the people at the Castaic Lake Water Agency. I don't like my part I have to play to try to bring accountability to the local public, but I'm willing to work and continue to work and stress the things that have to be done to make this an efficient agency and accomplish that task and possibly meet that goal of the Castaic Lake Water Agency mission statement.
Cooper: Mr. Dunn had the mission statement correct: It's to provide a reliable supply of high-quality water at a reasonable cost to the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley. And absolutely I think that the Castaic Lake Water Agency continues to meet that challenge, to meet that statement, and has met the mission statement of the agency.
Over the years, the supply of water for this valley has increased. The amount of water that we have available now is not what we had 20 years ago. The Castaic Lake Water Agency is constantly going out, looking for new supplies of water, purchasing that water to bring into the valley. Our water rates have been raised once in the last 15 years. I think we run a very lean and mean organization to provide water. It's some of the lowest wholesale prices in Southern California. I think the agency the quality of the water is excellent. We use the latest technology; we're in the process of converting one of our filtration plants right now to new technology using ozone as a disinfectant. So, yes, I believe they are meeting the mission statement and will continue to do so.
Signal: In terms of water, how much more growth can our valley sustain, and how well suited is the Castaic Lake Water Agency to meet the demand?
Cooper: Growth is an issue that is really taken up by the cities and the counties, as the planning agencies, to determine their master plans and where they expect growth to occur. The Castaic Lake Water Agency is very similar to the electric utility and the gas companies in that once those planners decide that, yes, we're going to expand our community, it's our job to make sure that those supplies are available just like the other utilities.
That's why we continually go out and look for new sources of water. Right now we have 96,500 acre-feet of water through the State Water Project that's available to us; we have employed a number of other projects to make that water more reliable every year, in providing groundwater banking, and we're looking for some new sources right now. Water in California is abundant. There is a lot of water. Cheap water is hard to find, but you have to go out and you have to look at providing that water and looking at the reliability of it, and getting into those water transfers from up in Northern California.
Dunn: I think that in the case strictly (of) water, water is a finite supply, and that differs from the electrical utility; and the gas utility is a finite supply, except that they have loads of it in the ground in Texas. But the electric utility just generates power as needed, and you cannot produce water as needed. We only have so much.
I think the problem that we have with our water, and the problem that the Castaic Lake Water Agency has, is the water has to come so far. It has to come from a rural dam or it has to come from wells, which the well supplies, the groundwater is being overtapped. So we have to rely more and more on state water, and the Castaic Lake Water Agency and some of these allocations that Bill's talking about that they have purchased there's no guarantee of a way to get it here, either from the standpoint of the reliability of the aqueduct due to drought; and if we don't have snow in the Sierras, we have no water. And earthquake interrupt. And then there's another factor too the water that's purchased from the San Joaquin Valley, from farmers, was never destined to come over the Tehachapis to here.
Signal: CLWA has entered into a pair of 10-year agreements to store nearly a year's supply of water, 31,000 acre feet, in a water bank in Kern County to guard against drought. Is this an appropriate tactic?
Cooper: Absolutely. Aboveground water storage facilities are very difficult to build. But there's enormous ability to put water underground when you have surplus water, and the Castaic Lake Water Agency has, over the last two years, embarked on a process with the ... Kern water agency in the San Joaquin Valley to go ahead and put water into the ground. We've stored about a year's supply.
We're in negotiations now for three other projects one with Rosedale-Rio Bravo to purchase water as well as to store water, and one with Chino Basin, which is on this side of the Tehachapis, which is in the San Bernardino area, that we can store water in their groundwater basin. They can use that water and we, in turn, take water from Castaic Lake, because they have rights to Metropolitan Water District water. Those are all very important parts of building reliability into the system that we have now. So that 96,500 acre-feet of water that we have in wet years, when it's cut back, we can call on those groundwater programs and fulfill that need of the valley.
Dunn: I like it is a fairly new banking agreement that Castaic's entering into the Rio Bravo-Rosedale, and also I believe Maricopa ... there's another one in there, anyway. It's the one that sounds like it makes some sense. They actually have some water. They also have a state allocation. There's a good chance that Castaic Lake Water (Agency) could get some water from them. But then you have the problem of getting it from there to here. And that's the problem we have here. We have no local water storage. Castaic Lake Water Agency has been very remiss in providing us local water storage and by local I mean, in this valley.
Now, Bill's employer built that very expensive Diamond reservoir, Eastside Reservoir, down south, because they knew they had to have some local (storage), too, in those areas and to San Diego. And we haven't done that here. In some cases it would be difficult to do here, but it could have been done by adding extra tanks for Newhall County Water District (and) Santa Clarita Water Co. Whenever those purveyors were adding tanks, a tank could have been added by Castaic Lake Water Agency. That would be forward-looking, and that would be a real reliable system and source for us, and it would have somewhat protected us. But if we lose the aqueduct, no matter what banking you have and wherever you have it, we're going to be in a great deal of hurt here.
The reason I don't care too much for the Chino Basin in order for us to get the water that we get (from) Chino Basin, (we must) trade and get it from MWD out of Castaic Lake. If the aqueduct is shut off for whatever reason, MWD needs all their water in Castaic Lake, and it will be their option whether they're going to give us any. And I think that's going to be a problem.
Signal: It seems CLWA is always fighting a lot of environmental lawsuits. Is the appropriate response to fight, or could CLWA be doing something to meet the environmental activists halfway?
Cooper: Well, you're right, we have a number of lawsuits that are going on that have been filed by SCOPE Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment Friends of the River, the Sierra Club. The motives of those lawsuits I wouldn't speculate. I have my own opinions of what those are. But when SCOPE sues us and says we don't have the existing water supplies to meet the needs of the residents when we go out, then, and look at purchasing additional water we purchased an additional 41,000 acre-feet of water from the Central Valley, that we now own they turn around and then sue us for purchasing for more water, where they sued us on the other end, saying that we didn't have water in the first place.
I don't know what their motives are. It's costing the residents of this valley a great deal of money in us having to fight these lawsuits. Mr. Dunn's household his wife was a party to one of those lawsuits. She filed one against us for purchasing the Santa Clarita Water Co. and putting that into public ownership, and putting the assets of that into public ownership from the private holders. So we're very concerned about these.
Dunn: In my opinion, the way CLWA responds to those lawsuits has room for much improvement. I know for a fact: One lawsuit that could have been settled for $17,000, the attitude was to press forward and show them. And it wound up costing $1 million, and the CLWA lost it.
We can't have that kind of attitude going into lawsuits. What we need to do is look at them and for instance, the lawsuit that was against the Urban Water Management Plan, (which) was the best piece of fiction that anyone ever saw crafted. CLWA spent $240,000 to have that (drafted). No one else in the state spent that kind of money for an Urban Water Management Plan, but guess what? They're going to do a new one now, and they're going to (spend) $350,000. So this tells you what's going on.
I did want to comment on the lawsuit that my wife joined in on, about the purchase of the Santa Clarita Water Co. CLWA, in my opinion, should have never have purchased a retailer. CLWA's law said they were wholesale-only. CLWA has no knowledge or experience in running a retail operation, and they purchased it under strained circumstances. In fact, Mr. Cooper went ahead and approved them using cash at a last minute because it looked like the loan wasn't going to go through, or else the lawsuit was going to land before the loan went through of $80 million. So he unilaterally said, spend $63 million of the agency's cash. He cannot do that without board approval. The whole transaction was wrong.
Signal: The Urban Water Management Plan forecasts water availability over a five-year period. Our valley's UWMP was approved in 2000 by CLWA and the four local water retailers. Now one of them, Newhall County, has withdrawn its support, saying the UWMP overestimates the available water. What's your opinion?
Dunn: It's very, very flawed. In fact, the way that I explained (it) and I was on the board at the time I'm the only one who voted "no" because if you're a responsible individual and accountable to the people of this valley, you couldn't vote "yes." And so I voted "no" for the Urban Water Management Plan, and I said at the time that if CLWA had 50 years and $50 billion-with-a-B, they could do all those things they said. They had in that Urban Water Management Plan to produce water. It just was not there. And that particular lawsuit when that was challenged, they could have immediately started another Urban Water Management Plan instead of fighting it to the tune of nearly $1 million, and they're still probably going to lose their case.
Cooper: (The Urban Water Management Plan) accurately reflects the water that was available in the year 2000 when the plan was built. Since then, we've augmented the supplies and we have a larger plan. The Urban Water Management Plan filed by CLWA was challenged by the environmental groups in the valley. It was upheld in the Superior Court; it has gone to the appellate court. It's the most comprehensive water management plan filed in the state of California. The state is using it as a model. Many cities file one that are three or four pages in length. This was a very large document, very comprehensive, and accurately reflects the amount of water that is available; and it's the kind of document that the planning agencies need to have in use.
It was not done by CLWA; it was done by the four water purveyors the companies, along with CLWA. It was done by Black & Vietch, independent consultants, well respected in the water community. Scalmanini and Associates, hydrologists, were a part of the process, and Richard Slade, who is the expert hydrologist in this valley, have all participated in it. But yet Newhall County Water District, three board members, untechnical people, took it upon themselves to say that this plan was flawed. They didn't listen to their own staff when they presented that. Nor did they listen to the technical reports done by Slade and Scalmanini and Black & Vietch. What they've done is purely political. It has nothing to do with the technical aspects of the report.
Signal: The Santa Clarita Valley is served by four major water retailers: Newhall County Water District, Santa Clarita Water Co., Water Works District 36 and Valencia Water Co. It's a weird geographic setup where Newhall County serves a hodgepodge of areas Newhall, Castaic, Pinetree. Would there be merit in two or more of the retailers consolidating?
Dunn: Well, there may be, but not consolidate into the Castaic Lake Water Agency. The Castaic Lake Water Agency seems to be bent on taking full control of all our water resources in this valley, and that will be a monopoly. Heaven help us if that happens.
Castaic Lake Water Agency, in my view, is a dysfunctional agency and needs a major makeover. So what is it doing taking (over) retail water purveyors like the one it took? It would make much more sense if the Santa Clarita Water Co. was merged into the Newhall County Water District, just like District 36 that's contiguous to it, and Castaic should be merged into it. That's not happening. And it appears that the local politics when Mr. Cooper says some things are political, yes they are, but they are not political in the way he purveys it.
He said the three ladies on the Newhall County Water board were nontechnical; all three of them are technical. Two of them have college degrees and my wife has some college, and she also has been 15 years following the water field. So, if you were to look at the Urban Water Management Plan yourself and look at one item, one of the many items that I wanted in Urban Water Management Plan, and that is, "What do we do in the case of a complete state interrupt, aqueduct interrupt, like we had before, in the middle of the summertime?" They refuse to put it in. They refuse to answer that and refuse to put it in the plan. You tell me that that's a good plan.
Cooper: I think (consolidation) is up to the customers of those water agencies. Castaic Lake Water Agency purchased Santa Clarita; we've been very successful over the last five years. We have the lowest water rates in the valley. We're the largest water company, (with) about 28,000 customers now. Newhall County is a very small agency, about 8,000 customers, maybe even less. They have four separate and distinct areas that they serve, from Pinetree to Castaic to Newhall. It's very inefficient to have a water agency to try to operate noncontiguous areas.
That's why Newhall County Water District has the highest rates in the valley, and in addition to their rates, they also have taxing authority, and they tax, on top of their water rates, on the tax bill. Newhall County's board really needs to look at their financial operations, and I think the customers do, too. Fifteen hundred to almost 2,000 of those customers are being served by Santa Clarita Water Co. that are paying taxes to Newhall County and can receive no benefit from them. I don't think that's fair. I don't think Newhall County has properly looked at that issue, either.
Signal: What would you like to ask each other?
Cooper: Well, I've known Ed over the years that I've been on the water agency board, and I have not seen Ed be supportive of one water resource management plan yet. Anything that seemed to benefit the water resources in the valley, he has opposed. I would really like to understand why you've done that.
Dunn: The reason I have done it is because I looked at it from the standpoint of what value it was to the residents of this community, and to the community. And 90 percent of the time, what the Castaic Lake Water Agency board does and you know very well that it's true they pander and exist for the benefit of Newhall Land and Farming. And that's where all the effort and that's where most of the funding goes, and this community (begets) short shrift. Eastern Pinetree right now is in a great deal of hurt because Castaic Lake Water Agency would not put the pipeline in there to eastern Pinetree, the eastern part of the valley in the Pinetree area, that they were conditioned to do in 1991. This is over 10 years later. We still don't have the water pipe.
Dunn: I would like to ask Bill if the Castaic Lake Water Agency and he knows that I've been on them for years to try to fly right ... I'd like to know, are they ever going to stop the pandering and serving the special interests, and serve the people of this valley?
Cooper: Well, I somewhat take offense to the question of Mr. Dunn in relation to saying that we pander to Newhall Land and Farm or any other developer, because we absolutely don't. I don't. I have never been asked for anything from them, nor would I give them a favor. They are the largest landholder within the area of the Santa Clarita Valley, and obviously we're going to have business dealings on an agency basis with them. But I have never been asked for a favor, nor would I grant them one.
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.