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Cost of salt reduction: $103 a year

SCV Sanitation District officials release rate proposal to remove chloride from wastewater

Posted: April 25, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 25, 2014 2:00 a.m.

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After six months of crunching numbers, writing grant proposals and negotiating with state agencies, Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials have released a proposed rate increase for local residents to foot the bill for removing salt from wastewater dumped into the Santa Clara River.

At the same time they assure ratepayers that everything is being done to satisfy environmental regulations as cheaply as possible.

In the first of a series of meetings that will continue into the summer, Sanitation District directors released a table of proposed rate increases that would phase in the cost of reducing naturally occurring chloride — one of two elements that make up common table salt — by building a $130 million system to reduce chloride discharged from the district’s two water treatment plants.

District directors emphasized that they must begin charging fees for the $130 million salt-reducing system as a demonstration of good faith to the state agency that enforces water quality standards in California as they negotiate for additional concessions from that agency.

The charge would begin with a $17-a-year increase in Sanitation District rates during fiscal year 2014-15 for single-family homes.

That rate would increase gradually until it reached $103 a year in fiscal year 2019-20 for single-family homes.

“We are committed to finding resolution here that is not a horrendous, horrible impact on Santa Clarita,” Director Laurene Weste said in an interview Thursday.

“I’ve never seen anything that was so unfair and doggedly hard on Santa Clarita,” Weste said of the state’s demand for chloride reduction. “But we will get this (cost) down, we will continue to work the legal angles, we will continue to work the legislative process, the grant process, as well as the technology issues” to reduce the yearly ratepayer fees, she said.

The district board consists of two Santa Clarita City Council members and a county supervisor.

$103 a year
The fees for chloride reduction in the river would appear on homeowners’ property tax bills combined with existing district fees.

Those existing fees would gradually increase from the current $247 a year, which does not include the cost of chloride cleanup, to $373 a year by 2019-20. The $373 a year includes some regular fee increases, as well as the additional chloride removal fee.

Condominium owners would pay 75 percent of the single-family-home rate, said John H. Gulledge, head of the Financial Management Department of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.

In October, when the system for chloride removal was approved by directors, its estimated cost per each single-family home was $140, district officials said.

That cost was reduced $37 over the six months since then, and Gulledge said more cost reductions are possible.

“We do see (additional) potential savings,” he said. “We’re pushing really hard to find those other funding sources.”

Cost reductions
Ventura County farmers who use Santa Clara River water to irrigate crops say the chloride damages their avocado trees.

The Santa Clarita Valley’s two water treatment plants, which dump treated water into the river, do not remove chloride because there was no requirement to do so when they were built.

The district has been ordered to reduce chloride levels in wastewater to 100 milligrams per liter at the Los Angeles-Ventura county line — or face stiff fines of as much as $3,000 a day. Those costs would be passed through to ratepayers.

During his presentation at Monday night’s board of directors meeting, Gulledge noted the price tag for chloride cleanup in the Santa Clarita Valley once stood at an estimated $500 million.

The current $130 million estimated cost is a vast improvement but may be lowered further, he said.

He noted the district has secured a $2.5 million Proposition 84 grant, is in the process of applying for a $5 million grant and is hoping to win as much as $30 million for chloride removal through a statewide bond measure in the fall.

The district is planning to use low-cost state loans for construction to save money, and it has asked the state water-quality regulation agency for some concessions, such as allowing for an average chloride discharge at treatment plants, rather than measuring each plant’s discharge, which could save $11 million, he said.

Public meetings
A series of public meetings on the rate increase proposal is scheduled beginning May 7.

“The informational public meetings are voluntary to try to reach out to the community and answer questions in advance of the public hearing,” which is tentatively set for June 30, Gulledge said.

In addition, the district will mail out notices to all residents who would be affected by the rate increase. The notices will outline the background of the chloride issue, the rate hike proposal, the cost to individual property owners and the date of the public hearing.

The notices will include an opportunity for property owners to protest the rate increase. No public vote on the matter will be held, but if 50 percent of property owners protest the rate increase, it would not be adopted.

Opposition
Although the Monday night meeting was sparsely attended, a few opponents of the chloride removal fees, which some call a “salt tax,” were on hand to demand more information or to criticize directors for adopting the plan.

Canyon Country resident Alan Ferdman called for information on increased connection fees, especially for businesses.

Berta Gonzalez-Harper, another Canyon Country resident, questioned what she called “junk science” behind the 100-milligrams-per-liter chloride maximum and the district’s lack of success in challenging that number.

“Get rid of your lawyers,” she told directors.

The district appealed the limitation to a state agency, claiming the demand constituted an unfunded mandate, but it lost in that arena. It has since filed a Superior Court lawsuit.

“I know there’s a lot of frustration out there,” Director Bob Kellar told the protesters. “It’s justified.”

“This is the state doing it. This is not us,” he said, noting the district has been fighting against the chloride-removal mandate for years.

But noting the district has already been fined once, he added, “If there’s nothing else that is clear, it’s that we’re not going to win.”

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