A state agency has proposed steps that it says will provide enough water to serve the tens of thousands of new residents projected to flood into the Santa Clarita Valley over the next 20 years.
Those measures include new underground reservoirs and increased use of recycled water, according to a report by the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which supplies water to four utilities that serve the fast-growing region of north Los Angeles County.
"In short," the report concludes, "water supplies are expected to be adequate throughout the 20-year plan period under all conditions," even droughts, if the proposals are implemented.
Critics, however, said the report reflected a pro-growth bent, and was being rushed through the approval process.
Bill Pesci, an elected director of the water agency, denied that the agency has a pro-growth slant. "We don't approve growth. We're just like the gas company and the phone company. We are there to serve."
In its complex study of development trends and projections, the 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. That would mean a rise in the number of households from nearly 50,000 to 96,000.
This estimate is more conservative than a recent study by the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which said it expects the area's households to triple in the same period. Under that estimate, more than 500,000 people will live in 149,214 households in the Santa Clarita Valley in 20 years. The association says the current population of the Santa Clarita Valley is 226,346.
The water agency proposes greater use of local ground water and state water resources to meet the needs of future developments, such as the massive 21,600-unit Newhall Ranch, the largest ever approved in Los Angeles County.
In June, a Kern County Superior Court judge temporarily blocked construction of Newhall Ranch until the developer, Newhall Land & Farming Co., conducts further studies to guarantee that it has a reliable water supply. The Castaic Lake agency supports 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 also prove it can guarantee water supplies to new developments.
Lynne Plambeck, a board member of the publicly owned Newhall County Water District and a sharp critic of expansive development, said she was disappointed by the water agency's plan, asserting that the report grossly underestimates water demands. She accused the agency of using 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, so we'll just pull these figures out of the air,' " Plambeck said.
Some community leaders, including Henry Schultz, head of the Sierra Club in the Santa Clarita Valley, accused the water agency of rushing through the plan, which is required by state law to ensure that all agencies can meet existing and future water demands.
The lengthy report, compiled by a team of consultants, was released late on Thanksgiving Eve and could be adopted after one hearing in December.
Mary Lou Cotton, a spokeswoman for Castaic Lake Water Agency, defended the schedule, saying that the agency is required to adopt a plan by the end of the year. However, she said, the plan can be amended later.
Initial comments on the draft Urban Water Management Plan 2000 are expected to be voiced at the special meeting at 6:30 tonight at the Castaic Lake Water Agency headquarters, 27234 Bouquet Canyon Road.
A public hearing will be held Dec. 6, with adoption expected Dec. 20. Written comments must be received by the agency by Dec. 7.
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Bacteria at the Beach
Ocean water was tested for bacteria at 254 sites from Point Conception, Calif., to Punta Banda, Mexico, on Feb. 20, a day and a half after a rainstorm. Fifty-eight percent of the sites exceeded health standards for bacteria. The beaches tested represent all ocean waters that are accessible to swimmers along 690 miles of shoreline.
Type of site % exceeding health standard
Beach at mouth of storm-water outlet: 87%
Beach 100 yards from outlet: 67%
Sandy beach: 62%
Rocky beach: 34%
All beaches: 58%
Source: Southern California Coastal Water Research Project