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Chloride plan offers four alternatives

Posted: April 24, 2013 11:52 a.m.
Updated: April 24, 2013 11:52 a.m.

In a bid to stave off more chloride fines levied by the state, local sanitation district officials Wednesday have released four proposals for reducing the amount of salt discharged into the Santa Clara River.

The draft chloride compliance plan and its environmental impact report would replace a plan that was approved by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District but rejected by ratepayers in 2010.

At issue is chloride released into the Santa Clara River, which farmers downstream say damages their crops. Residents of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District — everyone in the valley with a sewer hookup — are being tapped to pay the cost of chloride removal.

In November the district was hit with a $225,000 fine by the state for failing to comply with its permit to discharge chloride. More fines — perhaps as high as $20,000 a day — could follow unless the district adopts a plan acceptable to state regulators.

On Wednesday, water officials and civic leaders told The Signal they prefer the fourth option offered by the Sanitation District, the only one structured in two phases.

Most expressed hope the state’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan would bring low-chloride water to Southern California within 10 years and negate the need to enact the plan’s second phase.

The four options offered in the plan do not involve a costly reverse-osmosis plant, as proposed in the previous plan. They do involve removing excess salt from the Santa Clara River and hauling it out of the valley in various ways.

None of those ways is cheap.

Notices made public Wednesday about the proposal did not carry price tags, but in the actual facilities plan and EIR the district outlines what each alternative — with the exception of Alternative 1, which is not recommended by the district — would cost Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers.

For example, a single-family home paying an annual sewer service charge of $213 today would pay $270 six years from now if nothing is done to address chloride reduction.

The same home would pay $410 under Alternative 2, and $430 under Alternative 3, in the year 2019/20. It would pay $395 and $535 for each phase, respectively, under Alternative 4.

Dan Masnada, president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, said he prefers Alternative 4 because the Bay Delta project would likely eliminate the need for its costly second phase.

“Implementation of the twin tunnels under the Delta — in other words, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan — will reduce chlorides in the State Water Project supply by an order of magnitude, thus negating the need to treat the water in the long term,” he said Wednesday.

“By not constructing Phase 2 (of Alternative 4), SCV residents and businesses will not incur expensive capital and operating costs of reverse osmosis facilities, which would ultimately become ‘stranded infrastructure’ when no longer needed due to the improved (State Water Project) water quality.”

About half the water used in the Santa Clarita Valley arrives by way of the State Water Project. That water travels through the Delta, where it picks up a lot of salt.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar, who expressed his displeasure about the state’s water board system at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, said he likes the look of Alternative 4 — at least its first phase.

“I trust the people who have first-hand knowledge in making water decisions,” he said Wednesday. “And, I will continue to listen to them.

“Phase One, I believe, has merits,” he said. “But I am open to other suggestions.”

Though he doesn’t like having to get behind any costly solution for reducing chloride in the river, he and the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley must do it or face being fined, he said.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Sam Unger, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, met with immediate challenges when said solid scientific facts back up the necessity for keeping chloride levels no higher than 117 milligrams per liter in the Santa Clara River.

“Some of the statements you made are difficult for me to handle,” Councilwoman Marsha McLean said told Unger.

A former Sanitation District member, McLean said she was at the meeting where the Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to suspend research into the effect of chloride on down river crops.

She challenged both the expertise of the advisory panel who set the chloride level, saying many were employed by agricultural interest, and the level itself.

“Why is 117 (milligrams per liter) only OK if a very expensive plant is built (to reach that level)?” she asked Unger.
Unger said the board was willing to keep costs low but responded negatively when McLean asked for more than 60 days to consider the plan.

Other council members also challenged the 117-milligrams-per-liter level, arguing it needs to be reviewed, and the chloride level in State Water Project water that arrives for public use.

“What agency’s responsible for common sense here? Because that’s who we need to talk to,” Councilman Frank Ferry said.

“There’s a lot of frustration on this issue, and justifiably so,” Kellar summed up the exchange. He described residents as “just continually having to fight government” and its “insatiable desire to bankrupt the American people.”

To achieve compliance with state mandates, Sanitation District officials are recommending alternatives 2, 3 or 4, said district spokesman and senior engineer Basil A. Hewitt.

“Through public discussion, we will whittle those down to a final recommendation to our board,” he said Wednesday.

“If not, there will be fines,” he said. “Even bigger than what we’ve seen.”




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