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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Supplier Says It Can Meet New Santa Clarita Valley Water Needs

Development: Castaic Lake agency predicts 50% increase in demand by 2020. Plan will be unveiled today.

November 29, 2000|MARTHA L. WILLMAN and TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Water suppliers say they can meet the demands of new development in the Santa Clarita Valley over the next two decades--including the proposed 21,600-home Newhall Ranch subdivision just east of Ventura County--even during a drought, according to a plan that will be unveiled today.

In a complex study of development trends and projections, the report by the Castaic Lake Water Agency estimates that the number of water users in the Santa Clarita Valley will nearly double by 2020, resulting in a 50% increase in the demand for water.

A variety of sources is proposed to increase supplies, including greater use of local ground water and state water resources to meet the needs of future development.

"In short," the report concludes, "water supplies are expected to be adequate throughout the 20-year plan period under all conditions," even during periods of drought.

But at least one local water official is skeptical of the predictions and suggests that only detailed descriptions of future water resources will convince her that an adequate supply exists.

"Can they identify it? That's what I want to know," said Dana Wisehart, general manager of the United Water Conservation District, who plans to review the report this week. "I have to look at it to see what they identify as water sources."

Projections by the Castaic Lake agency, which distributes supplies from the State Water Project to four local retailers, are expected to be scrutinized by several critics who have long challenged the validity of such estimates.

A Superior Court judge in June temporarily blocked construction of the Newhall Ranch project until the developer, Newhall Land & Farming Co., conducts further studies to guarantee that it has a reliable water supply. The Castaic Lake agency is supporting Newhall Land in the legal battle.

In a separate action, the state Public Utilities Commission in October ordered the Valencia Water Co., a subsidiary of Newhall Land, to prove that it also can guarantee water supplies to new developments.

Initial comments on the draft Urban Water Management Plan 2000 are expected to be voiced at a special meeting of the Castaic Lake Water Agency at 6:30 tonight at the agency headquarters, 27234 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita.

A public hearing will be held Dec. 6, and written comments must be received by the agency by Dec. 7. Adoption by the Castaic Lake agency is scheduled Dec. 20.

Lynne Plambeck, a Newhall County Water District board member and sharp critic of expansive development, said she is disappointed in the water agency's figures, charging that the report grossly underestimates water demands. She claims that the agency used unsubstantiated data to boost water supply estimates.

"They basically said, 'Wow, if we are going to do all this development, we do need a certain amount of water,' " she said. " 'So we'll just pull these figures out of the air.' "

Plambeck said the report is unfair to the public and to the planners who are relying on the Castaic Lake agency's estimates.

"It's absolutely imperative that you give planners an accurate understanding of what the water resources are," she said. "They need to know if they build past what water resources are available.

"The bottom line," she added, is that "the emperor has no clothes and people are starting to say so."

In projecting future water demand, the agency largely discounted predictions of massive growth, such as estimates by the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which developed a regional transportation plan in 1998. That report predicted a 64% increase in the number of households in the Santa Clarita Valley within the next 10 years--an annual rate of 3,775 new homes--with an even faster pace of 5,300 new households per year in the following 10 years.

SCAG estimates that by 2020, more than 500,000 people will live in 149,214 households in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Castaic Lake report called the SCAG projections "unrealistic, according to actual experience." In comparison, the agency predicts that the number of households will increase from nearly 50,000 now to 96,000 in 2020, an annual pace of 2,240 new connections. The more conservative approach was based on historical growth, which increased from about 500 new households annually in 1990 to slightly more than 2,000 last year.

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