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Meetings set for proposed SCV sewage rate hikes

Posted: May 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley residents will receive mailed notices within the next few weeks about proposed rate hikes in their sewage fees following a vote by the local Sanitation District board Wednesday night.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District directors agreed to set a public hearing on the rate increases for June 30, mail out notices as required by Proposition 218 and schedule a series of public informational meetings on the issue.

The fee hikes are required to meet state water quality standards for chloride, a naturally occurring component of common table salt, in treated wastewater dumped into the Santa Clara River, district officials said.

Rate increases would mean about $100 more per year for single-family homes by fiscal year 2019-20. For businesses the rate increase would vary depending on the amount of water discharged and the treatment required.

For uses such as light manufacturing and warehousing, the increases could be as little as $15 a year per 1,000 square feet of space by fiscal year 2019-20. But for stand-alone restaurants it could be as high as $886 per 1,000 square feet of space each year.

Sanitation district fees appear on property tax bills. Fee increases would be phased in over six years’ time.

Wednesday night’s meeting at Santa Clarita City Hall was lightly attended, drawing several critics of the rate hikes and some representatives from the area’s business community.

“We are concerned about the cost on business,” said Santa Clarita Valley attorney Hunt C. Braly, representing the Chamber of Commerce. “We are concerned about the significant increases in connection fees.”

Still, he said, the Chamber encouraged the district to move ahead with its chloride-reduction plan and “look(s) forward to participating in the public meetings and the public hearing.”

Also speaking at the meeting were plan critics Alan Ferdman, Allan Cameron and Cam Noltemeyer.

“The state can fund the mandate, not us,” Noltemeyer said of the chloride reduction mandate. She also called for a public vote on the proposed rate increases.

During presentations before the vote, staff members reminded directors and the audience that the district could face severe fines from the state if it fails to take action to reduce chloride in Santa Clarita Valley wastewater to 100 milligrams per liter.

Mandated state fines would equal $6,000 per day for the district, and discretionary fines could be greater, said Phil L. Friess, department head of Technical Services for the county Sanitation Districts. Fines, like fees, would be paid by district ratepayers.

The plan for chloride reduction approved by directors in October calls for a $130 million system that includes the process of reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light treatment and deep-well injection.

On Wednesday night directors approved a $515,000 expenditure for engineering services, design and permitting of deep injection wells for the district.

State water quality regulators insist the district reduce chloride to 100 mg/l in water discharged into the river — a level demanded by downstream farmers who say salt in the water harms their avocado trees.

The district has battled the mandate — one of the lowest for chloride in the state — for 10 years and wrangled with state regulators for at least two years, reducing the estimated cost of the system from half a billion dollars to the currently estimated $130 million.

Sanitation District officials hope to win some concessions from state water officials, along with grants and other funding assistance, that could further reduce the costs of wastewater chloride reduction.

Opponents of what some call the “salt tax” note that water arriving in the Santa Clarita Valley via the California Aqueduct already contains some 80 milligrams per liter of chloride. Aqueduct water makes up about half that delivered to Santa Clarita Valley homes and businesses.


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