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State demands action on water

Sewer assessment rate could more than triple if proposed changes take effect

Posted: April 23, 2009 9:36 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Local sanitation department officials have been told by the state that they must clean up a mess the state helped create, a Sanitation Districts official said.

The Los Angeles County Sanitation District must reduce the salt content of the treated wastewater released from two Santa Clarita Valley facilities into the Santa Clara river, said Steve McGuinn, chief engineer and general manager for the Sanitation Districts. The salt-laced water released from two SCV sanitation plants makes it nearly impossible for farmers downstream to grow strawberries or avocados — two crops that are sensitive to high salt levels, he said.

The water leaving the SCV plants’ salinity averages 150 milligrams per liter, said Francisco Guerrero, a Sanitation Districts civil engineer.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, controlled by the State Water Resources Board, requires the salinity to be no higher than 117 milligrams per liter, said Dirk Marks, Castaic Lake Water Agency water resources manager.

The Sanitation Districts’ solution is an increased local sewer assessment to pay for $250 million to upgrade two SCV water treatment plants to remove the salt. The proposed sewer assessment rate hike could take the price from $14.92 per month to $47 per month during the next six years.

Part of the problem is that the water that comes to the Santa Clarita Valley is salty when it begins its journey, long before it is used by residents here.

“The largest remaining source for chloride (salt), is the state of California through the state water project and (the state’s) not paying to clean it up,” McGuinn said.

The source McGuinn is talking about is the state water that flows into the Santa Clarita and eventually finds its way into the two SCV treatment plants. That water entering Castaic Lake, from which the area draws much of its water, has a salinity level of 75 milligrams per liter, said Marks.

That means the water already is approaching its ultimate acceptable level before it gets used.

The problem occurs because the  Water Agency imports water from the Sacramento Delta, which is already loaded with salt.

The salinity problem stems from where in the delta the drinking water is drawn.

“The pumps are in the south delta and pull water from west to east,” Marks said. “Water from the west is influenced by the ocean and has higher salinity,” he said.

The salty water flows south into the local water system where the problems compound, McGuinn said.

The human wastes that flow into the system through area sewers increase the concentration of salts, he said.

The Sanitation Districts are stuck with solving the problem and local property owners are stuck with the bill, McGuinn said.

“When does the state pay for anything?” he asked rhetorically.

The Sanitation Districts board will vote May 26 on the proposed rate increase. A simultaneous public hearing at Santa Clarita City Hall will present the last chance taxpayers will have to express their views about the proposed increase.



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