I Heart SCV
Water Woes and the Blame Game
October, 2009 - Issue #60
"WATER is second only to alcohol
among liquids that always get the best
of us Claritans."

In Santa Clarita, it's not really October until a few thousand acres have been ravaged by a Santa-Ana-wind-driven, Super-Scooper-doused blaze.

What's interesting - and annoying - is how these fires always seem to make us turn against the very substance that helped us extinguish them, namely water. If it was a wet year, we hear about how the extra plant growth fueled the flames. If it was a dry year, we hear about how the dehydrated brush helped the fire to spread. Then after the fire, we get mudslides from too much rain or wind erosion from too little. It's always water's fault: there's either too much or too little. Water is second only to alcohol among liquids that always get the best of us Claritans.

This October, our tense relationship with H2O is poised to become even more strained. A debate over water politics shows no signs of ending, our favorite weather anomaly is coming back and Halloween draws our thoughts towards water's dark side.

Watering Development
The developers and the environmentalists of SCV are two groups that always have water on their minds. Developers say "Build it!" and reassure the community that water agencies will find or buy enough water from somewhere. Environmentalists say "Save it!" and point out that we're woefully dependent on water from Northern California and that local supplies are often stretched or polluted.

The two camps have been waging war across the opinion section of The Signal for weeks. The Delta Smelt has been a particularly contentious topic. It's a small, silvery fish that is threatened with extinction by water pumping to provision Southern California. Kevin Korenthal wrote "to hell with the delta smelt" after worrying about how he yelled at his daughter over brushing her teeth with the water running. Lynne Plambeck and other members of SCOPE have countered these sentiments with the same calls for prudent planning they've made since time immemorial. Both sides agree that protection (or lack thereof) afforded the smelt will have a meaningful impact on SoCal development for years to come. As for me, I stand firmly in the Korenthal camp. Why bother to save an irreplaceable, unique animal when we can let kids brush their teeth with the water running instead?

El Nino Watch 2010
Even if you choose to skip the back-and-forth that plays out in the local paper, don't think you can escape the grip of water. It's going to be an El Nino winter, which means we'll be drowning in a sea of coverage of this complex weather phenomenon. While the past couple El Ninos have been pretty mild, climate scientists are predicting a "moderate to strong" event this year. The vast patch of warm water in the Pacific Ocean that's responsible for El Nino is already present and expected to increase in size. Past events have brought over 40 inches of rain to SCV, nearly three times the normal amount.

This has several ramifications: (1) Globally, Indonesian palm oil and Indian sugar cane farmers won't get enough water (stock up at Whole Foods now), (2) Regionally, you won't be able to tune into the local news without elaborate graphics for El Nino Watch 2010, complete with reporters in blue ponchos standing in downpours, and (3) You will have a conversation that starts "It's raining an awful lot," followed by "Yes, but we sure do need it," and ending with "I can't argue with that," countless times throughout the winter. Since our first rain usually comes in October, you won't have to wait long for the fun to begin.

Water at its Worst
No discussion of October in Santa Clarita would be complete without a scary story for Halloween. And even here, water is at the heart of things.

That's because the most inarguably terrifying chapter of Santa Clarita's history was the St. Francis Dam failure on March 12, 1928. The dam was built in the San Francisquito Canyon (near Tesoro del Valle) by William Mulholland to supply water to LA. After several warning signs of a breach were ignored, the dam broke three minutes before midnight. SCV Historian Jerry Reynolds imagined the 125-tall wall of water that burst forth as "lumbering across the plain like some prehistoric beast, demolishing and carrying away everything in its path." 495 people died across the torrent's 54-mile path of destruction. Some say that ghosts of the victims can be seen ascending the cliffs of San Francisquito Canyon, trying even after death to escape the onslaught.

While we remember this tragedy on its anniversary in March and on the most spiritually unsettled night of October, its lesson is timeless. We may heart SCV, but water is indifferent to us, as ready to give life and wealth as to take it away. Our relationship with the stuff is one we've never quite gotten right.

This column is intended as satire and a (sometimes successful) attempt at humor. Suggestions, catty comments and veiled threats intended for the author can be e-mailed to
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