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Our View: Lack of water standard unfair

Posted: April 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.

“Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

It’s an old quote, but it hasn’t lost an ounce of truth over the years. There’s always a controversy to be had involving the most basic component of life on the planet.

For us here in the Santa Clarita Valley, it’s been the issue of chloride in the water supply: deciding how much is an acceptable amount, and who’s responsible for keeping that level.

In fact, the “acceptable level” of this naturally occurring salt varies from area to area within the state. And if the “powers that be” for our area decide the level’s not acceptable here, we could wind up footing the bill.

That bill could cost us — the sewage ratepayers of the Santa Clarita Valley — hundreds of millions of dollars.

The agricultural interests downstream in Ventura County have lobbied the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to require that water leaving the Santa Clarita Valley be less than 100 milligrams per liter by 2014 (though we’re currently allowed 117 during this grace period).

Otherwise, the strawberry and avocado cash crops in the next county could suffer serious damage, they say.
But the science behind that number is questionable, to say the least.

David Kimbrough, laboratory supervisor for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, cited avocado farmers in Irvine as one group successfully growing sensitive crops with levels of chloride higher than 117 milligrams per liter.

But that’s a different region with a different water-quality control board, so they get to play by different rules.

Compounding the confusion is the fact that chloride levels vary from year to year, depending on rainfall. During drought years, the concentration of the salt goes up. During rainy years, chloride is flushed away.

The agency charged with enforcing water-compliance standards around the state is the California Water Resources Board.

Members of that board are appointed by — and answer directly to — the governor of California.

However, it became apparent last week when Gov. Jerry Brown visited the Santa Clarita Valley that he’s completely unaware of the chloride issue.

Granted, the mammoth state budget deficit is likely taking up the majority of Brown’s attention since he assumed office in January.

But we’re concerned that what is a very expensive issue for communities such as ours is being totally overlooked by the very agency that’s supposed to be running the show.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, tried to grapple with the issue by introducing a bill to set statewide standards for chloride. But he’s been forced to table it to try to work out a deal with the powerful Farm Bureau.

But for Santa Clarita Valley residents, the clock is ticking.

By 2014, we’re supposed to build a reverse-osmosis water-treatment plant — at a cost of at least $500 million — on our dime, or face devastating fines.

Meantime, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District has put everything on hold, desperately casting about for some less expensive way to get chloride out of the river.

But alternatives might prove ineffective during times of drought.

And while all this is going on, avocado growers in Irvine are happily raising their crops with water-chloride levels higher than the standards Ventura farmers say is a necessity for their avocado crops to thrive.

Enough of this silliness. It’s time for the state to take responsibility for the absurd labyrinth of bureaucracy it’s created in the good name of clean water.

It’s time for the governor to face up to some other responsibilities that go with the office he sought so fervently.

We want sound water-quality direction without politics and special interests muddying the equation.

We want a moratorium on all chloride-related decisions until a sensible, science-based standard can be applied fairly across the state.

Yes, it’s everyone’s water, but we shouldn’t be the only ones paying for it.


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