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Talks bring together parties in chloride debate

Option under discussion is variation of previously rejected plan — with lower price tag

Posted: August 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A revised version of the chloride-reduction plan rejected by Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District ratepayers three years ago because of its high cost is being discussed between all stakeholders in the chloride debate.

Those parties in the discussion include Ventura County farmers and staff with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — the state regulating agency that fined the local sanitation district in November.

On Wednesday, members of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board of directors were updated by the agency’s Water Resource Department as to “work in progress” on the chloride issue — and specifically about efforts to “implement a less costly alternative” for reducing the amount of chloride that ends up in the Santa Clara River.

“The (Castaic Lake Water Agency), the city and the Sanitation District — as the upstream stakeholders — are working with United Water Conservation District and the other downstream stakeholders to develop and refine the Alternative Water Resources Management program,” agency General Manager Dan Masnada said Thursday.

The alternative water management plan was hammered out by local water officials and Ventura farmers in 2008 to reduce chloride levels in the Santa Clara River.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board endorsed the program and allowed the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to discharge up to 117 milligrams of chloride per liter of river water, 130 mg/L in time of drought, until the plan was implemented.

However, the 2008 program came with a price tag of at least $250 million — in part for expensive reverse osmosis technology — to be paid by Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers through four years of sewer fee rate increases. In the summer of 2010, the public said “no” to the rate increases and the program was mothballed.

Now the same cast of participants — including Ventura farming interests and the people who filed a $225,000 fine in November against the local Sanitation District — are working to revamp the Alternative Water Resources Management program.

Among four chloride-reducing plans proposed by the Sanitation District in April, Masnada described it as the one that “most cost-effectively and efficiently meets the regional board’s water quality requirements — with the very real possibility that, through consensus of all the stakeholders, the regional board will adopt revised water quality objectives of 117/130 mg/L.”

City Public Works Director Robert Newman represents one of those stakeholders working to revitalize the program.

“It’s everybody’s least costly project,” he said, referring to Phase 1 of Option 4 in the chloride-reducing alternatives suggested by sanitation officials in April.

“This is one of the cheapest alternatives, meeting everyone’s objective,” he said.

The second phase of Option 4 is contingent on the success of its first phase. If it fails, Option 4 becomes the most expensive of the four alternatives.

“This is the only alternative of the four that have been proposed that provides the opportunity for, one, the regional board to revise the water quality objectives and, two, all the stakeholders to corroboratively work together,” Masnada said.

The local Sanitation District has until Oct. 31 to submit a plan of action to curb chloride contamination. It is reviewing all comments made about the four options.

“It’s too early for the Sanitation District’s staff to provide comment on the alternative preferred by (Castaic Lake Water Agency),” said district spokesman Basil Hewitt.

“District staff is still analyzing and preparing responses to all the comments that we have received on the Draft Chloride Compliance Facilities Plan and Environmental Impact Report.”
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