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It’s time for a legitimate science study

Posted: August 11, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 11, 2013 2:00 a.m.

At the July meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, member Fran Diamond called Santa Clarita Valley residents’ stand on the sanitation district’s economically staggering plan to reduce chloride in the Santa Clara River "inflammatory."

She accused residents of being unwilling to do what it takes — what the law requires to be done — to protect the water body and public health.

She threatens to involve the state Attorney General to assist the board in forcing valley residents into submission on the board’s demands for reducing chloride in the river.

Inflammatory? Right word, wrong placement.

To be sure, Santa Clarita Valley residents and businesses have been slow to grasp the draconian economic impact of the board’s demand to reduce chloride to 100 milligrams per liter in river water leaving Los Angeles County and heading to Ventura County farmers.

We’ve also been slow to grasp the shaky science it’s based on — a difficult thing to grasp since, it seems, it’s rather elusive.

And then there’s the politics of its origins — an even less transparent concept.

But in a democracy, chastising citizens for questioning the actions of government is a display of government at its most arrogant.

It is especially true for a significantly resourced governmental body that is not elected and has no direct accountability to the people who pay for it.

We appreciate that government has a difficult task in balancing differing interests to create a broader public good.

Conversely, we are suspicious of a governmental agency wreaking general and lasting havoc on a community it was not elected to serve backed by science that it seems unwilling to submit to scrutiny.

More than three years ago we were told the river’s chloride levels must be reduced to protect avocado and strawberry farmers downstream.

Yet some scrutiny of allowable chloride levels in the Santa Clara River indicates levels of 150 milligrams per liter are perfectly fine for farmers downstream of Santa Paula.

Are not avocados and strawberries grown west of Santa Paula in the Santa Clara River Valley? Why would they flourish there with water containing 150 mg/L of chloride but not flourish upstream with water containing 150 mg/L of chloride?

The people have a legitimate question about the validity of the science in this matter. When questions were raised about the science in April during a City Council meeting, a water board official assured the audience and council members it was valid. But assurances are not enough when millions of dollars and an entire community’s business interests are at stake.

We know that there are avocado and strawberry growers in other areas who are successfully using water supplies with higher chloride levels than 100 milligrams per liter.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board’s demand for lower chloride levels would create a significant imbalance of winners and losers. The clear losers are the citizens and businesses of Santa Clarita — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over time.

The Signal believes everyone should take a deep breath here and proceed in a manner that ensures we get this right. The consequences of submitting to a narrow public policy at the expense of the greater public good are, in this case, severe.

The periodically scheduled review period for evaluating the Upper Little Santa Clara River Basin is at hand.

The Signal believes that with so much at stake, the basin review would be an appropriate vehicle for funding and conducting legitimate, comprehensive scientific study of the watershed and its components as it pertains to chloride and other items of interest.

The best public policy comes with getting accurate information and making the correct judgment, however the chips may fall.

Crushing a community just because you have the authority to do so is not good government by any measure.


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