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Cam Noltemeyer: It’s not just sanitation rates going up

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: May 20, 2009 5:00 p.m.
Updated: May 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Too bad no one wants to tell our community what is really going on. For the past 10 years, everyone has known that the effluent emitted by Santa Clarita's sanitation districts is too high in salt (chlorides).

It hurts downstream farming and will eventually hurt us as well. In ancient times, the final action in a war was to salt the earth of the defeated so that their land would never again be fertile. I don't think we want that for our community.

Yes, water softeners were an obvious part of the problem, as is the new trend towards saline hot tubs and pools. Automatic flush softeners sent enormous amounts of salt into the river each time they regenerated. Banning them was a necessary part of the solution, especially when other, far less harmful techniques are available. However, they were not the biggest part of the problem.

It's really all about growth and the water we must get from Northern California to fuel it. No one in Santa Clarita City Hall wants to say this, of course, but it's time that someone starts telling our community the truth.

Not only is water from Northern California expensive, but it has a high salt content. As more and more housing is built and must depend on this water, the used water flushed from the sanitation plants will also be higher in salt.

Drought makes the situation even worse. As less water flows down the Sacramento River due to reduced rainfall and snow melt, seawater moves closer to the pumps that feed the State Water Project. This causes the water we get to become even saltier.

So the more houses and Gate-King Industrial projects we have, the more water we need from Northern California and the saltier the water gets. The city knows this, the county knows this, and the Sanitation Districts know this. It seems they just don't want to tell the public.

Why? Because they want you and me to pay to fix the problem. If we all know that the problem is actually caused by all the new development, wouldn't we want those folks to pay for it? Just better not to tell the public.

But now the community is in an uproar over sewage fee increases and heads may roll in the next election.

This may be a solution for the future, but we have a different suggestion. Why not make the sewage connection fees for new development reflect the real cost of these connections? Why does the public have to pay for new growth?

And by the way, it's not just the sewage fees that will be increasing. Castaic Lake Water Agency is proposing a huge increase in the charge for the water it gets from Northern California.

Valencia Water Company has applied to the Public Utilities Commission to increase its water rates. All of us will pay for getting expensive Northern California water to the new subdivisions.

A citation from the recent Gate-King Industrial project court decision makes our predicament all too clear: "Today, the State Water Project simply does not have the physical capability to deliver 4.23 million AFY (acre feet per year) of water to its contractors. On the contrary, the actual, reliable water supply in the SWP is more in the vicinity of 2 to 2.5 million AFY of water."

Salty and scarce water will become more and more expensive. Costs to transport it and treat it will continue to rise. What will stop the upward march of costs and fees imposed on existing residents? Only a slower, more careful and more sustainable look at how we grow will answer this question.

Building less, building more efficiently and adopting land use practices that protect our groundwater and demand maximum efficiency are the only ways to keep costs down for all of us in Santa Clarita.

The city must demand more from future development, carefully examine the water issues and stop just saying yes to every developer that comes along.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member and a Santa Clarita resident. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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