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Sewage meeting spouts acrimony

Posted: May 6, 2009 9:31 p.m.
Updated: May 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A meeting set up to provide residents with information about a proposed sewer-rate increase Wednesday erupted into complaints about the absence of the very bureaucrats who set the waste-water standards responsible for the proposed rate increase.

The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts held the first of five informational meetings Wednesday at Santa Clarita City Hall. The meetings are designed to explain the Sanitation Districts' need for a proposed sewer-assessment increase before a May 26 vote on the increase by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, a subsidiary of the County Sanitation Districts, said Dave Bruns, Sanitation Districts, assistant financial planner.

If approved, sewer assessment rates will jump from $14.92 per month to $47, based on a 250-gallon per day average.

The proposed sewer-rate increase would pay to reduce the chloride levels in effluent water released into the Santa Clara River from two SCV treatment plants. If the plan is approved, both plants would get new micro-filtration systems. The current level is more than 140 milligrams per liter, said Francisco Guerrero, a Sanitation Districts civil engineer. The standard set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, controlled by the State Water Resources Board, is 117 milligrams per liter.

The Regional Water Quality Board didn't send representatives to Wednesday's public meeting and that ruffled the feathers of residents in attendance.

"Where are they?" asked Glenda Johnson of Newhall. "What I'd like to see is this Regional Board," she said.

Johnson wasn't alone in questioning the Regional Water Quality Board's absence from the meeting.

"Is there anyone here from the Regional Board?" he asked. "Because they set arbitrary limits, that's why all this is happening. That's why we're all here."

The Regional Water Quality Board didn't return a phone call by press time.

After the audience finished grilling the Sanitation Districts' employees about the absence of Regional Water Quality Board members at the meeting, Bruns pushed on with a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed project. He detailed the source of the water problems and how the Sanitation Districts are trying to lower chloride levels.

During his presentation, Bruns rehashed the water-softener debate, a topic many at the meeting are still sore about.

"That water-softener vote was presented as if it would solve the salt problem," said Dick Trimble, of Saugus.

Santa Clarita voters passed Measure S in November to approve the removal of home water-softener systems, which were commonly in use at SCV homes. The Sanitation District blamed water softeners for the high salt levels in the Santa Clara River, Trimble said.

The Sanitation Districts claimed removing water softeners would save the Sanitation Districts from building a new treatment system, he said.

Bruns retreated from that position at Wednesday's meeting.

"We believed water softeners would solve the problem," Bruns said. The Sanitation Districts believed removing water softeners would prompt the Regional Water Quality Board to raise the threshold for chloride levies during drought years, which would keep the Sanitation Districts from building the plant, he said. However, after the passage of Measure S, the Regional Water Quality Board didn't budge on increasing the chloride threshold in dry years. This forced the Sanitation Districts into the proposed project, Bruns said.

The Sanitation Districts have until 2015 to meet the chloride standards, Bruns said. That means putting a project in motion within the year. If the Sanitation District decides not to approve the project, Bruns said the State Water Board can impose fines of up to $10,000 per day.

"I'm not telling you that Regional Water Quality Board will impose fines; there is the potential the board could levy fines," Bruns said. The only option to avoid the fines would be to take the Regional Water Quality Board to court and challenge the chloride standards. The chances of winning a court battle against the Regional Water Quality Board are slim, Bruns said.

"The court, more often than not, votes with the regional board because (the regional board members) are considered experts in the field," Bruns added.

A second public meeting was held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall. Additional public information meetings are scheduled for May 11 at 7 p.m., and May 14 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The meetings are held at City Hall at 23920 Valencia Blvd.

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