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Complaint Assails Newhall Ranch

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The local chapter of the Sierra Club has filed a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission alleging plans to supply water to the mammoth Newhall Ranch housing development could draw so much from the Santa Clara River and underground supplies it would threaten water supplies for the entire Santa Clarita Valley.

The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club also sent a letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asking the board to suspend its review of the massive project until additional studies can be done to determine whether enough water is available to sustain existing customers as well as future developments.

In a letter to the board, Laurie Fathe, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s conservation committee, said previous studies have not adequately addressed the health of residents in the area.

“Water is a serious issue in this project,” Fathe said. “Overdraft of the alluvial aquifer will not only impact habitat, but will also severely affect water quality and availability for everyone in the Santa Clarita Valley.”

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The Newhall Land & Farming Co., which is seeking county approval to build more than 24,000 homes in an area west of the Golden State Freeway near Magic Mountain, rejected the accusations.

The development, which would be built over 25 to 30 years, would be the largest in Los Angeles County history. It was approved by the county Regional Planning Commission in December but is still subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors before construction can begin.

Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the Sierra Club’s arguments were addressed in an environmental impact report and represent an attempt by opponents of development to block the project on the basis of unsubstantiated claims.

“These accusations that are now being made by the Sierra Club are completely without factual backing and are unfounded,” Lauffer said. “It’s part of a misinformation campaign that has been prevalent throughout the hearing process.”

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Although Newhall Land has stated it will not use ground water for Newhall Ranch, the Sierra Club contends the developer has not adequately explained where water to sustain up to 70,000 new residents in the area would come from.

Fathe said this will be especially true in dry years when overflow from Castaic Creek--one of three water sources identified by Newhall Land for the project--might not be available. Other water sources for the project include reclaimed water from agriculture and the acquisition of new state water to be purchased by the Castaic Lake Water Agency and sold to the Valencia Water Co.

“The years when one would want the water, the flow doesn’t get to the levels they would be able to draw it” from, Fathe said. “They need guarantees about water before the building process begins.”

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Fathe also said the purchase of state water could be hampered by the fact there is insufficient capacity in the California Aqueduct to transport it. Also, she said, Newhall Land has not shown how a planned water treatment plant called for as part of the project would meet expanded needs.

But Lauffer said the Sierra Club was ignoring the facts to scare up opposition to the project. She said county law requires developers to identify water sources before construction can begin.

“We will have to demonstrate that there is an immediate water source and we will,” she said.

Dave Vanatta, planning deputy for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the unincorporated area where Newhall Ranch would be built, said he believes Newhall Land had adequately answered questions on water in its environmental impact report.

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“There are a lot of issues involving Newhall Ranch, but water is one we thought had been taken care of,” said Vanatta, who was unaware of the Sierra Club’s complaint to the PUC. “The state Water Resources Control Board has said that the mitigations in the EIR were appropriate for the project.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Newhall Ranch project July 28.


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