Water-use gripes flow at forum

LA CRESCENTA — An election forum for six candidates running for three available seats on the Crescenta Valley Water District Board of Directors remained civil as they sparred over sewage rates, rainwater collection and conservation.

The campaign for three spots on the five-member board has emerged as the largest race in recent years, observers said. More than two dozen residents attended the forum, which was hosted by the Crescenta Valley Community Assn., a group that tries to bridge the multiple jurisdictional borders in the Crescenta Valley.

Water rates are slated to rise every year for five years, a response to years of drought and reduced water shipments from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies much of the area's water. La Crescenta saw water use drop 22%, compared with a five-year baseline average, the steepest drop off in the area, officials reported.

The turnout at Wednesday's forum and electoral competition can only benefit the community, Vasken Yardemian, the board president, said.

Board members each had a few minutes to introduce themselves, their backgrounds and education as they pitched their vision for the water district.

Crescenta Valley Town Council President Steve Pierce, who moderated the event, prompted the candidates to address the consumer issues that have cropped up as a result of the changing water landscape.

“How do you tell an elderly couple on a fixed income who hardly uses that much water that their rates are going to go up?” he asked.

Water conservation was a hot topic, and one that board challenger Wendy Alane Smith said she was very passionate about, so much so she interrupts her husband's showers.

“I run in with a pan and take body water and go use it to water plants,” she said. “No one else is going to do that except me. I'm an extremist.”

But she was interrupted by a couple who said they too reuse shower water.

Don and Esther Norbut said they were active in the community and worried that water lines might burst, an expensive problem that has plagued Los Angeles authorities in recent weeks. The Norbuts said they have been hit hard because water from their pool evaporates quickly.

“It's not that I like to fill it up, but if I don't, it'll contribute to filth in the neighborhood,” he said.

Local resident Mike Meyers said he owned more than one acre of land and had come to the forum because watering two days a week was not enough.

“Severe drought brought me out,” he said. “I want to see how it's going to be addressed, what the solutions are beyond the drought.”

A little back and forth about recycling rain water arose between incumbent Charles Beatty and a challenger Kerry Erickson. Beatty said the district ought to apply so that collected rainwater does not affect the district's allowance from other sources; but Erickson, who spent much of the evening making the case for new blood on the board, said there were different types of water classifications that would likely allow for the collection of rainwater without adverse impacts.

Another flash point arose on water that is released from a fire hydrant at the end of each month, a flushing action mandated by state regulators to help ensure clean water. Erickson criticized the board for what he said was a misguided decision to let that water flow freely.

“It takes innovation to come up with decision, and that decision was made in about three minutes,” he said. “It doesn't look good to the public when [the board] pours thousands of gallons of water into the storm drain and into the ocean. Just put a hose on it and water some lawns with it.”

Beatty and Yardemian countered that it would be costly to trap that water and recycle it. The amount of water lost at the end of each month is an insignificant amount, they said, about $400 worth.

Some perspective voters said they attended the event just to learn a little more about water policy.

“I understand rationing,” Jean Maluccio said. “I just want to know how much they can change because they aren't really doing a bad job.”

The candidates will square off again Oct. 15 at a town council meeting that will feature all candidates running in the Nov. 3 elections.

Water enforcement has been of concern to some residents, but the water supervisors are not water police, Pierce said.

“Community has done a great job on the request to cut back on water,” he said. “They want to request that the community respond, and the community has responded.”


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