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Chloride levels vary across state

Concern over potential rise in sanitation costs sheds light on other regions’ salt content

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

From the pristine reaches of Gold Run Creek north of Sacramento, one can scoop up a liter of sparkling cold water and find less than 0.2 milligrams of chloride in it.

From the shadow of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, melting snow and waterways like Gold Run Creek supply half the Santa Clarita Valley’s drinking water, distributed locally by the Castaic Lake Water Agency.The other half comes from local wells.

The quality of water measured in Gold Run Creek is regulated by one of nine regional water quality control boards formed by the state to uphold the federal Clean Water Act. Their objective is to make sure water quality is maintained “for the reasonable protection of beneficial uses” such as farming.

When it comes to the state’s Region 6, or the Lahontan Region — the one where Gold Run Creek is found — the water quality objective varies for each of more than 40 creeks and rivers.

In Region 9 in San Diego, chloride objectives are 140 milligrams per liter for surface irrigation and 100 for sprinklers; Region 2, the San Francisco Bay, and Region 3 on the Central Coast, expect chloride not to exceed 142 milligrams per liter.

Three of the nine regions — the North Coast (Region 1), Central Valley (Region 5) and Colorado River (Region 7) have no chloride limits at all.

When levels of chloride — a naturally occurring component of salt — exceed the set water quality objective, state regulators impose limits called Total Maximum Daily Loads to ensure the objective is being met.

Any business, sanitation district, farmer, individual or group seeking permission from the state to discharge chloride into Gold Run Creek can expect an order from the state to meet a TMDL of 0.2 mg/L.

If the permit holder violates its promise made to meet the specific TMDL, members of the regulating regional water board are mandated to issue fines.

Chloride in SCV

That’s what happened to the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District last November, when water quality regulators in the Los Angeles Region (Region 4) handed the Sanitation District a fine of $225,000 for violating conditions of its permit to discharge chloride into the Santa Clara River.

The Los Angeles Region sets chloride water quality objectives for eight natural waterways including the Santa Clara River, which runs from the top of Soledad Canyon through the Santa Clarita Valley, through the Santa Clara River Valley and into the ocean.

The water quality objective for the amount of chloride allowed in the Santa Clara River ranges from 50 mg/L to 150 mg/L, depending on where along the river you’re standing.

TMDLs for the Santa Clara River are set at 100 mg/L where the water exits Los Angeles County and enters Ventura County on its way to farms downstream. Meeting that objective could cost Santa Clarita Valley homeowners $125 to $265 more a year on their sewage bills. Businesses could pay considerably more.
The Ventura River chloride limits range from 50 mg/L to 300 mg/L — up to double the maximum level set for the Santa Clara River.

In response to the prospect of more fines filed against the SCV Sanitation District or choosing a costly chloride-reduction method, local ratepayers jumped at the opportunity last spring to question state regulators about the TMDLs set for chloride concentration in the Santa Clara River.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar fired off a letter May 20 to Sam Unger, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which included questions raised at the public meetings about chloride.

Unger was asked to provide specific examples confirming a statement he made previously that the Santa Clara River chloride TMDL is in line with other areas protecting agricultural uses.

In response, Unger sent Kellar a chart describing water quality objectives for districts around California, including the near-non-existent level for chloride in Gold Run Creek.

Calleguas Creek

His data shows Calleguas Creek, which also runs through farmland in Ventura County, has a chloride water quality objective set at 150 mg/L.

Kellar questioned why the objective was higher than the Santa Clara River’s when “they have similar crops and climate conditions.”

Unger explained that the levels for the two waterways were based on the existing levels in the early 1970s, and the river and creek had different chloride levels at that time.

In addition, he responded, the Calleguas Creek district has adopted a chloride-reduction plan like the one proposed three years ago in the Santa Clarita Valley to reduce salt using reverse-osmosis technology and by adding a brine line, proposals that Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers rejected as too expensive.

Without such a plan, the standard automatically reverted to the 1970 level of 100 mg/L, a regional water board worker said.
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