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Water official: SCV residents uncooperative over chloride

Regulator Fran Diamond says SCV's stand against water board is "inflammatory"

Posted: August 6, 2013 7:18 p.m.
Updated: August 6, 2013 7:18 p.m.
Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board member Fran Diamond. Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board member Fran Diamond.
Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board member Fran Diamond.

State water regulators who have ordered the Santa Clarita Valley to meet strict chloride levels find valley residents difficult to work with and are considering more fines and stronger punishment, a representative told a group of business leaders this week.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is disappointed in Santa Clarita Valley sewer system ratepayers for stalling on plans to curb the amount of salty chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River, board member Fran Diamond told Valley Industry Association members on Monday.

“The message I got from her was that our city stood up (to the board),” said Al DiFatta, co-chairman of the association that hosted Monday’s meeting at College of the Canyons.

“We were the most difficult community and she thought it would be the easiest. That’s what I came away with.”

“I heard clearly from Fran that they felt our area had been difficult to deal with,” said Maria Gutzeit, president of the Newhall County Water District board. “She (Diamond) felt there had been zero attempt to do anything, all the way along.”

The Signal was not notified of the meeting Monday attended by Diamond and Sam Unger, chief administrator for the regional water quality board. Diamond did not return three phone calls requesting comment Tuesday.

The water quality control board has ordered the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to reduce chloride levels in the river to a consistent 100 milligrams per liter where the water crosses the county line into Ventura County.

Some farmers downstream have claimed high levels of chloride, a component of table salt, damage their avocado crops.

Santa Clarita Valley residents turned thumbs-down on a chloride-reduction plan three years ago that could have cost about a half a billion dollars. After being fined for delays in coming up with a new plan, Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials in April released four possible alternatives for public comment. The district has to choose one by the end of October or face more fines. The district was fined in November for failing to make a deadline for the plan.

Sanitation district ratepayers — all residents, businesses and industry hooked up to the sewer system — will pay both for chloride removal and for fines imposed by the water board.

Business cost estimates for the plan released in April range from $469 to $994 a year more than currently being paid for a 5,000-square-foot office building. Cost hikes for a restaurant would range from $3,323 to $7,044 more a year in sewer fees. Residents would pay $125 to $265 more a year than current rates.

Calvin Hedman of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation said Diamond’s insights about the compliance process enlightened business owners who only started paying attention to the chloride issue when they learned it would cost them money.

“When they realized it would be money out of their pockets they started paying attention,” he said Tuesday. “At one point they said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. This is going top be big money for us; let’s talk about this.’”

During a Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting in July, Unger told the board that some Santa Clarita Valley business owners understood the necessity of paying for chloride removal, but others, whom he called a minority, did not.

In response, Diamond said: “In my view we need to ratchet it up in any way that we can to make this happen because the time is just ridiculous at this point,” according to a transcript of the meeting.

She asked Unger: “Does the business community understand that the regional board’s authority is different than the authority of the sanitation district?”

“I mean, we do have the Attorney General who represents us, and I think we might need to be considering going that route.”

She called Santa Clarita Valley residents’ stand “inflammatory and not willing to do what it takes, what the law requires to be done, to protect this water body and public health.

“It’s just not acceptable,” she said.

Some SCV residents still object to the chloride-removal plan, questioning the science used to support perceived chloride damage to crops, the very low level of chloride being demanded of valley ratepayers, and the right of the state to demand low chloride levels in wastewater when State Water Project water can arrive in the Santa Clarita Valley with relatively high chloride levels.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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