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Clock ticking on chloride fines

Regional water board rejects Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District proposal

Posted: June 9, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 9, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Local sanitation officials have 18 days to come up with an acceptable plan for reducing chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River watershed or face fines of $10,000 a day for each of two water treatment plants, The Signal has learned.

And those fines could be passed along to Santa Clarita Valley sewer-system users, as they have in other California communities fined for releasing the naturally occurring salt into their wastewater.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board notified the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County in a letter late last month that the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District violated the conditions of its discharge permit.

The board has given the district until June 27 to submit a suitable plan for reducing chloride or it will begin issuing fines.

“They sent us a letter saying: ‘You’re in violation, what are you going to do to correct that violation?’” said Phil Friess of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.

The threat of fines was expected, Friess said, after board members, acting on public comment last July, rejected a key element of a district plan already accepted by the board.

That plan — called the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan — called for a number of steps to be taken on the road to reducing the discharge of chloride into the watershed.

A key part of the plan called for raising sewer rates in order to build an expensive salt-ridding reverse-osmosis plant.

Those plans were derailed last summer when Santa Clarita Valley residents sent a clear message to the three-member sanitation district board that the proposed rate increases were unacceptable.

In response, the board postponed all talk of increased sewer rates.

But the problem of chloride remained.

The water plan
The regional water board, one of nine in the state, enforces water quality standards defined by the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act of 1969.

When it issued a discharge permit to the local sanitation district — setting limits for pollutants such as chloride — it was on the understanding that the district was on its way to ensuring consistently low chloride levels.

The district’s promise to the board was a plan calling for:

- removing salt-based water softeners in homes;

- upgrading ultraviolet disinfection technology;

- improving salt-management facilities set up in Ventura County;

- diluting Santa Clara River water with less salty water from the Saugus Formation, an aquifer deep under the Santa Clarita Valley;

- and building a reverse-osmosis plant with an initial price tag of $250 million, the cost to be borne by local sewage ratepayers.

In return, the regional water board granted temporary permission to exceed the 100 milligram chloride discharge level, including:

- 117 milligrams per liter, measured at the Ventura County line;

- 130 mg/L during times of drought;

- and 150 mg/L at the point of discharge, meaning the point at which treated water leaves the sanitation district pipes.

Chloride levels in the Santa Clara River reported at the Ventura County line rose above 117 mg/L only once between January and July last year, said Frank Guerrero, a senior engineer with the Sanitation District. That was in June 2010, when the level reached 119 milligrams per liter, he said.

All clocks were reset, however, when the proposed rate increases to fund chloride removal were rejected by residents last July.

On May 2, the district submitted an alternate plan to the regional water board, but that plan was rejected.

In the board’s notice of violation dated May 27, water board staffer Jenny Newman said the May 2 plan was “inadequate because it is not a plan for actions to meet the final effluent limited for chloride of 100 milligrams per liter.”

The district now has until the end of the month to come up with a plan deemed suitable by the regional water board.

“An answer hasn’t been fully developed,” Friess said. “District staff is working with city staff to develop an appropriate response.”

The district is subject to fines called “administrative civil liabilities” and is liable for $10,000 each day in which the violation occurs at each water treatment plant, plus $10 multiplied by the number of gallons by which the volume discharged exceeds 1,000 gallons.

The fines could end up being higher if the matter is referred to the Attorney General’s Office.

In that case, the attorney general could demand up to $25,000 per day, and $25 per gallon.


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