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Maria Gutzeit: What we need now on chloride

Posted: June 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

Someone recently asked me to summarize the chloride issue in really simple terms.

Here it is: your property taxes and the costs to business will be going up to pay to remove chloride (part of salt) from water so that downstream users can enjoy water they didn’t pay for, at levels cleaner than they themselves have to comply with, in quantities and qualities unjustified by science.

The agency working on this is the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, an independent agency headed by two Santa Clarita City Council members and one county supervisor who rotate their service.

The process has gone on for well over eight years, and we have not gotten the flexibility that nearly all other areas in Southern California have.

For residents and businesses alike, the process has been as pleasant as smacking your forehead with a brick.

Save for a currently pending California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit, this waste of money, water and increase in environmental impacts seems poised to keep rolling forward.

The finger pointing and message, from our elected leaders, that nothing can be done — while other communities did indeed do many things better — seems to have killed us on this one.

On June 30 your taxes will likely go up. The problem as we eat this loss is that there are many more things coming up that are worse, and we need to do things better.

What we need now is to break down the silos that let this happen. The Sanitation District only cares about renewing its discharge permits for wastewater flowing to the river.

Right now, the city is working on stormwater capture ... the biggest component of which is the riverbed.

Water agencies are juggling water-supply issues, including recycled water, contaminants, and getting as much water as possible to soak into the ground to keep our local supplies strong.

The riverbed also has habitat and recreation and flood control demands on it.

The state developed a fabulous plan — indeed, a mandate — for integrated regional water management planning, also known under its clunky but compact acronym IRWMP. Integrated regional water management planning comes with state funding. Of course, we have developed an integrated regional water management planning document.

What we haven’t developed, as personified by the chloride debacle, is the integration part of water planning.

We’ve got a document. And we have silos — agencies that work on their pet issues rather than working together.

Places like the Santa Ana River and the San Joaquin Valley have had multiple agencies and multiple interests get together to develop solutions that solve a lot of problems at once.

The strength of their cooperation also gains them support of their communities and regulatory agencies and gains them significant funding.

What if, instead of sticking steadfastly in its silo, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District worked with water agencies to develop a plan to recharge their “waste” water upstream, in the riverbed, to produce a nice green habitat in the river and help our groundwater table.

What if part of that project included percolation basins that also helped with stormwater capture, which we are going to be mandated to do anyway?

What if such recharge reduced our reliance on imported state water?

What if, as has happened elsewhere, technical studies were done to set site-specific water quality objectives for the water going into our riverbed?

What if a better project saved a lot of electricity and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions?

What if an improved, more comprehensive project insulated the residents and businesses from multiple cost increases?

What if we got a nice greenbelt in Canyon Country along the bike trails, increasing recreational benefits and property values?

What if citizens, businesses, and environmental groups were invited to participate and listened to?

The most frustrating part of the chloride debacle is knowing that we aren’t learning from other areas’ successes.

We have been told, erroneously, that nothing can be done and that someone else “did this” to us.

Here’s the reality: By not doing truly integrated regional water quality management, all government agencies that touch a drop of water are doing us a grave disservice.

We are wasting money, wasting energy, and missing opportunities that other communities learned to take advantage of.

It is time for that to stop.

Maria Gutzeit serves as an elected official with Newhall County Water District.

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