[KHTS] – Wells are going dry for Bouquet Canyon residents who say government inaction is threatening their water supply.
Los Angeles County officials said their hands are tied by federal officials who OK permits for county work in the area.
Forest Service officials say the county hasn’t taken the steps needed to clear a creek. And the LADWP is responsibile for the reduction in the area’s creek levels.
In the meantime, two things have been made clear to residents, according to Ron Rambin, who lives in Bouquet Canyon, and relies on a private well, like many of the area’s residents: Wells in the area are running dry, and there are multiple agencies responsible.
“I’ve lived up here for 45 years,” Rambin said. “My property abuts (Angeles National Forest) on Bouquet Canyon. The issues started in 2005, but it takes several years of having no water for the wells to go dry.”
That day has already come for Bouquet Canyon resident Helen Angarita, who said she has a well, but it doesn’t produce, and she regularly spends about $90 for about 4,000 gallons.
She also has a tenant on her property that she has to provide water for, and the cost rises quickly. The average Santa Clarita Valley home uses about 225,000 gallons per year, according to water officials.
“Basically, my grass is dying, because the water is expensive,” said Angarita, who lives about a mile north of Vasquez Canyon Road.
An official came to the door about six months ago and asked for a signature, Angarita said.
Residents say they have been working together with officials from county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s office, as well as Congressman Buck McKeon’s office to try to get something done.
But in the meantime, the wells in the area now have about six to nine months before they’re all completely dry, Rambin said, based on discussion with a hydrologist.
And, so far, nothing has come of her signature, Angarita said.
The Need to Clean Bouquet Canyon Creek
There’s about 800 people who live in the Bouquet Canyon area, and about 200-300 of them rely on private wells, said Rambin, who’s been researching the issue extensively.
The exact numbers aren’t known because some of the records were damaged in a fire in the 1960s, he said.
“The crux of the issue is, in 2005, we had the big flood here, and it washed out a lot of Bouquet Canyon Road and so forth,” Rambin said.
Canyon residents rely on the creek and its upkeep, he added.
“There is no other water supply for this canyon,” Rambin said.
Up until about 10 years ago, the county officials would undertake an annual cleaning of the creek, said Dave Caddick, Los Angeles County district engineer for road maintenance in District 5, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley.
While the road is on United States Forest Service land, the road is maintained by Los Angeles County through special permits, Caddick said.
“The county used to clear the creek adjacent to the roadway, which helped preserve the roadway by keeping the creek next to it lower than the road,” Caddick said. “But that largely stopped, about 2001 or 2002.”
Then, a series of events exacerbated the situation.
By 2007, the state and federal governments had declared the region a disaster area in response to widespread flooding and fires in the area, Caddick said.
“The whole canyon was completely impacted by the storm,” he said.
A Road Muddied by Bureaucracy
After the federal and state governments stepped in, county officials had difficulty obtaining permission to clean out the creek, Caddick said.
“(It was) largely because of the required environmental clearances, required by several different government agencies, that were getting very difficult, at times, to get agreement between the different regulatory agencies,” Caddick said.
After residents contacted county officials and expressed their concerns about the water supply, two letters were sent to the U.S. Forest Service, Caddick said.
One letter was sent in July, and another was sent in October, he said.
The first letter, sent July 2, requests permission to clean the creek, and details how that would be accomplished; a second, sent Oct. 1, notes that there has been no response to the July 2 letter.
The second letter mentions a June 27 conversation between Forest Service and county officials, mentioning $50 million in discussed roadway improvements that would resolve future flooding issues.
“The United States Forest Service did not rank (road betterment projects) high as compared to other statewide proposals for these funds and ultimately this application did not make the initial cut for Federal Land Access Program funding,” according to the letters.
Forest Service officials said there has been talks with county officials, but there was no written response issued.
U.S. Forest Service Response
“It is accurate (to say) that the creek has not been cleaned out,” said Daniel Lovato, deputy forest supervisor for the region.
The USFS has been in contact with representatives from the offices of McKeon and Antonovich, Lovato said.
He added that certain steps that need to be taken in order to clean the creek, which have not happened.
“They sent us a formal letter in July,” Lovato said. “They wanted to give them clearance for us to clear the creek, and our response was, ‘No, we need to conduct an environmental analysis.’”
Forest Service officials said they have not received an “official proposal,” or a document that state “We want to do an analysis by this date,” said Sherry Rollman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“The creek would be free flowing if it weren’t for the county improvements,” Rollman said.
However, Caddick said county officials wanted to know what concerns, if any, Forest Service officials had regarding any projects, before they embark on a project proposal, which can be a lengthy and expensive procedure.
“We contact the owners (in this case, the federal government) to find out any concerns or questions they have with significant work, before we embark on applying for permits from a regulatory agency,” Caddick said.
Both Rollman and Lovato said residents’ water issues are being caused by creek restrictions put in place by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
“We do know that there was a reduction that the LADWP made in the release of the water,” Lovato said, adding that Forest Service officials were notified of the reduction after the fact.
“That was a unilateral decision on their part,” Lovato said.
There is an agreement with United Water to release a certain flow of water from its Bouquet Reservoir into Bouquet Creek, according to a statement from LADWP officials.
“Unfortunately, rain storms from the mid 2000s caused Bouquet Creek to silt up,” according to a statement from Jim Yannotta, manager of L.A. Aqueduct for LADWP. “As a result, when water is released at more than just a minimal amount, water spills out onto Bouquet Canyon Road causing a public safety hazard for cars, motorcycles and bicyclists.”
LADWP is attempting to work with the U.S. Forest Service who owns the property where Bouquet Creek has silted up and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see how Bouquet Creek can be cleaned out in an environmentally safe manner, along with potential roadway improvements by L.A. County, so that higher flows can be released to the creek, Yannotta stated.
However, the agencies’ cooperation, which has been years in the making, hasn’t been fast enough to help residents who are seeing their wells dry up.
“We have Antonovich’s office and McKeon’s office both trying to get this resolved,” Rambin said. “And in the meantime, the wells are going dry.”