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State says it won't pay for Santa Clara River chloride removal

Commission declines to classify $130 million expense an 'unfunded mandate'

Posted: January 25, 2014 1:01 p.m.
Updated: January 25, 2014 1:01 p.m.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District lost a bid Friday to have the costs of removing chloride from the Santa Clara River declared an unfunded mandate that would be subject to state reimbursement.

The Commission on State Mandates ruled on the Sanitation District’s claim during a hearing in Sacramento at which Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and Assembly Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, both argued that the order to reduce chloride in discharged wastewater is a mandate from the local Regional Water Quality Control Board, which answers to the state Department of Water Resources.

The demand for no more than 100 milligrams of chloride per liter of wastewater is thus a state mandate for which the state provides no funding, Wilk and Weste argued.

“Requiring 265,000 residents to shoulder the burden of $130 million capital cost and $4.1 million in annual operating costs to discharge water in a better condition than we receive (it) from the State Water Project defies logic,” Wilk told commissioners.

But the commission denied the claim, in part because the Sanitation District has the means of paying for capital and operating costs of removing chloride from its wastewater.

That means is raising the fees of Sanitation District customers.

“We were not surprised today that the state commission denied the claim that the chloride limit set by the state for recycled water discharged into the Santa Clara River is an unfunded state mandate,” Weste said after the ruling.

“We fully expected that the commission would agree with their staff recommendation on this issue.”

Weste, who is one of two Santa Clarita City Council members to serve on the Sanitation District’s board of directors, said the district will continue to seek grants and other means of reducing the cost of chloride removal.

Federal law states that water must be cleaned up to a standard that benefits downstream users. The Santa Clara River’s downstream users are farmers who demand the chloride level in the water they receive be no more than 100 milligrams per liter.

Sanitation District officials wrangled and stalled over the demand for chloride removal for more than a decade — until the Regional Water Quality Control Board fined the district.

In October and with the nod of downstream farmers, officials agreed to a deep-well injection system that calls for chloride to be removed from wastewater and sunk 2 miles under ground in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Early estimates from the Sanitation District indicate the cost of deep-well injection per single-family home will add about $140 more a year to sewage rates; per condominium it is expected to be about $105 more yearly.

Business owners would be harder hit, facing as much as $4,050 more a year for a shopping center and $3,723 more a year for a stand-alone restaurant.




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