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Kellar questions scientific basis of chloride limit

Letters exchanged by mayor and water board chief answer many questions on the issue

Posted: August 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.

The Santa Clara River bed as viewed from the 1898 railroad trestle bridge at the Iron Horse Trailhead in Valencia on Friday. Photo by Dan Watson.

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Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar is grateful to get a comprehensive response about chloride from the executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, but he says he still has “significant concerns” about the science behind the board’s findings.

“I did receive a letter from Sam Unger,” Kellar said in a recent interview. He said he found Unger very “forthright” “and I appreciate that.”

“Having said that, I have significant concerns as to the findings of the regional water board,” Kellar said. “All of our alternatives (for reducing chloride contamination in the Santa Clara River) are extremely limited.”

Kellar sent the letter May 20 after the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District released plans to reduce chloride in the river but Santa Clarita Valley residents continued to have questions.

Kellar is a member of the Sanitation District board, but he wrote to Unger on city letterhead as mayor of Santa Clarita.

Residents in the Sanitation District — every home and business hooked up to the sewer system — were fined in November for failing to meeting chloride standards mandated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.Reclaimed water from the district is discharged into the Santa Clara River, and some farmers downstream say it contains too much chloride that can damage their crops.

Topping the list of Kellar’s questions were concerns about the science used to set the 100-milligrams-per-liter limit for water flowing from Los Angeles to Ventura County, where it is used to irrigate crops.

The standard was set in part on the levels of chloride in the river in the early 1970s, Unger has said, but it was also based on reviews of scientific studies on chloride’s effects on crops.

Kellar questioned who was on the technical advisory panel for the review; the number of documents reviewed; which entities approved the review; and the crop impacts that were indicated.

In a detailed reply to each concern dated July 19, Unger listed all the members of the technical advisory panel that studied chloride’s impact on crops. Half of them were from Ventura County.

The State Water Resources Control Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed “the draft Literature Review and Evaluation” that determined chloride impact on crops, Unger said.

“In addition,” he said. “the Total Maximum Daily Load revisions resulting from the findings of the Literature Review and Evaluation were released for public comment prior to adoption by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and approved by the State Water Resources Control Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” he wrote.

Some 225 documents were considered by the advisory panel, he said.

On the issue of leaf burn, he wrote, “The documents do not show that the only impact identified is leaf burn. The Literature Review and Evaluation examined both leaf tip burn and crop yield.

“Literature Review and Evaluation defined the maximum chloride concentration based on when plant injury would occur.

“In the case of avocados, plant injury was defined as leaf injury because this was the most documented symptom. However, the Literature Review and Evaluation also noted that studies have shown that yield losses and damage to the root system may take place long before visual symptoms such as leaf injury appear."

The Regional Water Quality Control Board is expecting the local Sanitation District to submit a plan for reducing the amount of chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River by Oct. 31.
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