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WATER AGENCY WILL TALK COMPANY AGREES TO DISCUSS ITS OPERATIONS.

Byline: Jason Takenouchi Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - The Castaic Lake Water Agency has agreed to answer questions about its operation in an effort to head off a state audit, although legislators could launch a full-scale investigation if the agency fails to cooperate, officials say.

CLWA officials met last week with Assemblymen George Runner and Scott Wildman after a former City Council member requested the audit, claiming the agency had misspent taxpayer money and violated state laws.

``The conversation we had is that there would be a number of months in order to get the agency to address some of the concerns,'' said Runner, R-Lancaster. ``This is an interim solution to determine whether or not a formal process will proceed.

``I think that if indeed there wasn't an expressed desire on behalf of the agency to cooperate . . . there would be probably a greater desire to create some accountability through the audit process,'' he said.

Bill Cooper, president of the agency's board of directors, acknowledged that CLWA still faces the threat of a state audit.

``It's one of those things that's always out there,'' Cooper said.

Wildman, D-Glendale, who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, did not return phone calls. His committee had been scheduled to consider the audit request, but he tabled the issue after meeting with Runner and the CLWA officials.

Among those working to head off the audit were California Advocates Inc. of Sacramento and Hunt Clarke Braly of Valencia - lobbyists who are paid $3,500 and $4,000 a month, respectively, to work in the agency's interest.

The agency has no record of how those retainers are spent, however, and Cooper said there has been no accounting of lobbying related to the audit request.

But the proposed CLWA audit has also garnered support among environmentalists.

The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club wrote a May 10 letter to Wildman, claiming the CLWA has overstated valley water supplies to benefit developers. The environmental group also said the agency has purposefully excluded information about perchlorate contamination in local water supplies.

By overstating the water supply, the Sierra Club's Martin Schlageter wrote, the CLWA has contributed to poor water planning that will lead to over-building, economic hardship and damage to local water supplies.

Lynne Plambeck, a Sierra Club member and CLWA critic, said she hopes water supply issues are addressed in coming months, regardless of whether a full audit is launched.

``I wish it would be sooner rather than later,'' Plambeck said. ``But however these problems get addressed I would be happy.''

Republican state Sen. W.J. ``Pete'' Knight of Palmdale, whose district includes Santa Clarita, said he remains neutral on the audit.

``That's not my position, to influence the audit committee,'' he said. ``If the audit committee looks at it and indicates there's justification for an audit, I have no objection to that.''

Runner, who has come out against the audit, acknowledged that the CLWA - which controls the Santa Clarita Valley's supply of imported State Water and also owns the Santa Clarita Water Co. - has made missteps in recent years.

``I do believe there needs to be a review of some of the issues that have come forth,'' Runner said. He added that if the agency does not cooperate with legislators, ``I might decide that the board should be audited.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 22, 2000
Words:550
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