One of the most important choices voters will consider in the November 2 election are representatives to the local water board. Castaic Lake Water Agency has four seats up for grabs and a full slate of qualified candidates eager to get your vote.
We asked them a short series of questions to give you an idea of what they stand for and how they might approach a couple of issues near to everyone’s heart and mind – rate increases and the current sanitation/salination problems posed by enforcement of the Clean Water Act by the L.A. County Sanitation Board.
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For the next few days, we will present the views, unedited, of the candidates for each office. Today, we present the two candidates running for the At Large seat on the CLWA board, Tom Campbell and Frank Smathers.
1. Why are you running for this office?
Tom Campbell - I think the Santa Clarita Valley is a wonderful place, and I enjoy raising my family here. I want to see the community prosper and thrive. I feel that serving on the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Board of Directors is my small way of giving back to the community and take pride in helping to make it such a great place to live.
Frank Smathers - There are many reasons why I decided to enter this campaign but I will name only two.
First, Everyone has seen the great Frank Capra movie "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," a movie in which Jimmy Stewart, an average citizen, is elected to congress. We all imagine what we would do if we had the chance to stand up in our state or federal legislature and give the career politicians a stern lecture on American government. I decided that now might be, in a small way, my Mr. Smith moment. No, I'm not going to Washington. If I'm lucky, I might get as far as the hill above Central Park where the CLWA office is located. I feel like this is a debt I need to repay, to give some service to a town and a country that has given me so much. Perhaps it's my duty to do whatever I can to make a difference in how water is obtained, allocated, and conserved in this valley.
The second reason I'm running can be found on the CLWA website, in the listing of the board of directors. Virtually all the current members have been on the board for several terms and all the board members are either water provider employees or work in fields directly related to water issues. It seems like a good idea to have at least one person without a hidden agenda on the board, an average citizen who will represent the best interests of the residents and ratepayers of the Santa Clarita area.
2. What do you consider your unique qualifications?
TC - I am a water professional and have been serving the water community for over 20 years. I am thoroughly familiar with the issues facing water suppliers today and want to use my experience to help guide CLWA in serving its customers.
In addition, I am a professional engineer with experience in managing large, capital infrastructure projects. CLWA has a sizable capital improvement program. I feel my experience managing the same types of projects that CLWA is constructing allows me to provide the oversight necessary to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget.
FS - My highest and lowest qualifications are one and the same. I am not an incumbent or an insider. My knowledge of water management is obviously not as strong as someone who has been working in the water business for 10 or 20 years. And because I have no ties to any of the agencies, corporations, or companies that control our water supply, I am free to represent the best interests of the citizens of Santa Clarita without having to answer to any other master. I am doing my best to get up to speed on water issues. The complexity of our water supply system is stunning. One of the first things I would do, if elected, would be to visit every employee of the CLWA to find out exactly what they do and get their perspective on how to improve the performance of the CLWA. I would respect the knowledge and experience of the incumbent board members and do my best to work with them to find new ways to insure and improve water service.
3. What would you suggest to address the chloride/wastewater dilemma facing your customers?
TC - The local Sanitation Districts are facing a serious problem with the chloride issue. The Regional Water Quality Control Board has determined that wastewater discharged from the Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plants exceeds allowable levels for chloride. The Regional Board has threatened penalties for continued noncompliance.
Although CLWA is not directly responsible for wastewater treatment or wastewater discharges, it has assisted the Sanitation District in developing solutions to the problem. Initially, estimated costs to fully remove chloride from wastewater discharges were in excess of $500 million. Through CLWA’s involvement, those costs have already been cut by more than half. Clearly, there is still more work to be done. I will see that CLWA continues to work cooperatively with the Sanitation Districts and other stakeholders to develop more cost-effective options.
FS - As I understand it, reclaimed water is being released from the Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Santa Clara aquifer. This reclaimed water moves through the aquifer from Santa Clarita to Ventura County. The farmers in Ventura County are complaining because the chloride / salt level in the water is high and it causes problems for the growers. State law mandates a maximum level for chlorides in the water, and so, it appears that Santa Clarita may be legally obligated to find a way to lower the chloride level in the reclaimed water before it is injected into the aquifer. A reclamation plant can be built - but the BIG question is - who will pay for it ???? It's unlikely we'll get much money from the state to build a plant - and the taxpayers of Santa Clarita do not want to pay to purify water that they will not be using. There are literally thousands of factors, monetary, legal, political, environmental, etc. involved in this issue. However, the farmers need good water to grow their crops and those of us who like to eat produce grown in California must find a way to make that happen. This is not an issue that will be solved overnight. I do not favor lowering the state standards for chloride levels to eliminate the obligation to provide good water. We need a real solution, and that is a reclamation plant. Even in this tough economy, we must find some partners who can help us build the plant. And I am very interested in building a reclamation plant that will be solar powered. It would be great if the CLWA became a role model for water providers throughout the nation by being the first to provide 21st century solutions to 21st century problems.
4. If higher rates or fines are inevitable, in what other areas would you make cutbacks to mitigate the impact on the consumer?
TC - Increased rates or fines for the local Sanitation District’s customers will not have a direct impact on CLWA; however, they will still have an impact on the community at large. CLWA has assisted the Sanitation Districts to reduce the cost to the community for dealing with the chloride issue and will continue to do so.
One of the solutions CLWA is working on is a long-term, sustainable resolution of the environmental issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Declines in certain fish species have resulted in cutbacks to water exports. Solving the environmental problems in the delta will provide CLWA with greater water supply reliability. An added benefit of the delta fix will be imported water with lower chloride content. The delta fix, while costly, could be the ultimate solution to the chloride issue. CLWA is working hard with statewide officials to implement a delta fix and ensure that all costs are managed and appropriate. Most importantly, CLWA is working to prevent local residents from paying for the costs of wastewater chloride treatment AND the delta fix.
FS - This is a question about the most basic formula of economics - supply and demand. As the population of the valley continues to increase, our demand for water will increase. And there is evidence to indicate that the traditional sources of water imported into Southern California will not be able to supply enough water to meet our demands. That formula will always lead to higher prices as demand increases and supply decreases. The only way to avoid the increase in price is to lower usage of the product. I would propose to the board a program, similar to programs offered by Southern California Edison and The Gas Company, to provide rebates to homeowners and business owners who find ways to decrease their water use. More efficient sprinkler systems and low water usage landscaping are examples of ways to decrease water usage. The board should consult experts who can help us create more ways to give CLWA customers incentives to conserve water.
The primary job of the CLWA is to provide water to the people of Santa Clarita. We must find ways to conserve our water and increase the supply of water to this valley. This is a formidable challenge - and it is the duty of the CLWA board to find new ways to get the job done. Most of us take the running water in our homes for granted. We turn on the tap and get all the water we want with very little effort. What we need to realize is that water is the new oil. Our lives and our economy are even more dependent on water than on oil and we must act accordingly. The sooner we understand and accept the water supply problem, the sooner we will be able to work on it, solve it, and create our future.