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Problem found in the flush

Bladders may be to blame for one of the valley’s largest environmental crises, say Ventura officials

Posted: October 21, 2010 10:13 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2010 4:30 a.m.

The Santa Clara River is salty, in part, because more and more people upstream in Santa Clarita Valley are urinating.

That was the upshot of comments made by a small contingent of Ventura County water officials who Wednesday made the upstream journey, east on Highway 126, to the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge Family Center Banquet Room in Canyon Country to tell their side of the ongoing chloride controversy.

“In a five-year period, we’ve seen more and more chlorides added to the water,” said E. Michael Solomon, general manager of the United Water Conservation District based in Santa Paula.

Using a laser pointer, Solomon shone a bright red dot on a line graph, specifically on the year 1999.

He was explaining the history of the Santa Clara River.

“You’ll see here, there’s a big jump at the year 1999 when Santa Clarita Valley really started growing,” he said, explaining the upturn on the increased use of salt-generating water softeners.

“Your (valley) has grown and grown and continues to grow,” he said. “When you use that water — when it goes through your body — it comes out to (ultimately) produce 130 milligrams of chloride per liter.”

Solomon went on to explain the impact of urban development, and specifically, the human impact of people consuming salt, expending that salt — which includes chloride — and adding that to the overall sewer mix of salty waste.

“The chloride content of state water has been a huge issue,” he pointed out. “Statistically, that level has been about 80 milligrams per liter. But, your body adds 30 milligrams.”

Picking up on the logic of Solomon’s math, people in the Santa Clarita Valley simply drinking and expelling state water are discharging waste almost at the total maximum daily load for chloride, which is 117 mg/L.

A lot has been said about chloride in the Santa Clara River water these past few months, but on Wednesday night, a few people heard about it from a downstreamers’ perspective.

The Ventura County officials arrived in Santa Clarita Valley as the invited guests of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee.

Its talk was billed as: “Learn about the chloride issue from the Ventura perspective.”

The message delivered by the Ventura County water experts was consistent with what they’ve been saying: Salt (of which chloride is a component) in our shared watershed in and around the Santa Clara River is here to stay. It’s going to cost a lot of money to fix, and we all share in the same burden.

“We’re not asking you to pay all the costs,” Solomon explained.

Jeff Pratt, director of Ventura County’s Public Works Agency, confessed to an audience of about 100 people that it was the first time he’s spoken on this subject on “this side of the county line.”

The numbers he quoted had dollar signs.

He talked about Ventura County building a brine line to the ocean that carried with it a first-phase cost of $150 million.

That same brine line, delivering excess salt straight to the ocean, would cost an additional $250 million “just to put it in the ground.”

A similar 45-mile brine line from Santa Clarita Valley would cost about $465 million, Pratt said.

Pratt and Solomon confronted many of the local arguments published in response to the chloride issue.

“One of the things we hear about farmers of salt-sensitive crops is ‘Grow something else,’” Solomon said. “They’re property owners. We can’t tell them what to grow. We’re competing with South American farmers and farmers all over the world.

“They’re going to grow what they want to grow,” he said, pointing out later in the evening that Ventura County farmers contribute $2.6 billion to the state economy, and that $500 million of that money is from strawberries.

Another argument Solomon said he and his peers in Ventura County hear is that the 117 mg/L limit is baseless.

Solomon said the figure was based on research funded by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.

“This isn’t our science,” he said. “It’s your science.”


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