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Cam Noltemeyer: Wastewater solution or more delays?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 24, 2009 6:40 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.

It was a raucous hearing of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District on May 26. Our Los Angeles County Sanitation District representatives, Santa Clarita City Council members Frank Ferry and Laurene Weste, heard Santa Claritans say that they refuse to pay to fix the chloride (salt) problem in the Santa Clara River.

They responded by directing Sanitation staff to approach the Regional Water Quality Board to allow the salt levels to be increased.

So, more than three years of very expensive collaborative efforts between farmers, downstream cities and water agencies, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies and other work since 2000, just got thrown out the window.

The solution reached by the collaborative group was a good one. After three years of reading documents and attending meetings, they thought the consensus solution would work to reduce salts and actually make the return effluent into the Santa Clara River even cleaner.

The plan was to institute some reverse osmosis for the effluent, and use dilution for the other part to keep the cost down, which would work to remove some of the emerging contaminants and pharmaceuticals that are still making their way into the ground water.

The Sanitation Districts realized they would have to raise rates. After all, that is the price of all the growth in the Santa Clarita Valley.

It takes money to build the new roads, schools and water lines to support all the new development. It costs a lot to bring in new water supplies and power lines. And somehow the connection fees and development fees never seem to really cover these amounts. So there always must be additional school taxes, water rates go up and unsightly power lines march through our neighborhoods. It seems to me that bigger is not necessarily better, since it seems to always be more expensive for the taxpayer.

But apparently the Sanitation District thought that since our rates are lower than most big cities in Southern California, no one would complain. The district was wrong.

It seems that between the economy and the loss of our quality of life, Santa Claritans are finally fed up with the costs of all this new growth. They showed up in force to object to a fee increase that would continue to get larger through 2015.

The district responded to this public outcry by saying they would only increase the fee for one year, and none of that increase would go towards resolving the chloride problem. Instead it would be used to pay debt service.  

Debt service for what? Aren’t plant expansions supposed to be funded by connection fees? Did the Sanitation District underestimate the cost of expanding for new development and now we must pay for it?

And how is the need for that increase going to go away in one year? Why won’t they need it the year after?

A decision regarding chloride compliance has just been deferred.

Newhall Ranch was supposed to build a new reverse osmosis sanitation plant to clean the sewage water generated by its project before it goes back into the Santa Clara River. Now we find from recent news reports that they will use the Valencia treatment plant instead.

Los Angeles County and the city of Santa Clarita have approved thousands of other units that still have not been built.

My question is, why isn’t new development paying for itself? Why do the taxpayers always have to pick up the tab for all this development?  

We need to address the salt problem in the river before it gets worse. Failure to address it could result in substantial fines for not cleaning up this pollution. If the new development is causing the problem, new development should pay.

Connection fees should be increased to cover the cost of the needed sanitation plant upgrades.  

Additionally, green standards should be required of all new buildings to retain as much recycled water on site as possible, thus reducing the flow to the sanitation plant.

Many areas are far ahead of the Santa Clarita Valley in solving their wastewater problems. It is time for our valley to catch up.

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


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