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Cam Noltemeyer: Polluted water: Only time will tell

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: October 21, 2009 6:09 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Water and soil pollution continues to be a huge issue in the Santa Clarita Valley, as it has been for more than a decade. The problem is not limited to the Whittaker-Bermite site.

Space Ordinance Systems and Special Devices in Placerita Canyon, Keysor Century in Saugus and possibly the National Technical Systems site adjacent to the Whittaker property may have added to the problem.

The perchlorate water pollution plume is still spreading. Although modeling paid for by Castaic Lake Water Agency predicts the contamination will be captured when the cleanup wells begin pumping, no one will know for sure until monitoring of the wells show this hoped-for result.

Those wells are not functioning yet. In spite of an opening ceremony where several public officials praised the water agency for accomplishing a clean up, the clean up has not begun. The wells are not yet pumping and the pipeline to convey the water is not yet completed. The treatment facility awaits testing and Department of Health Services’ approval.

Why would they have such a ceremony before all the necessary cleanup facilities are actually completed and functioning?

R.J. Kelly referred to “so-called environmentalists” in his column (“CLWA flush with success,” Oct. 18)

It is the responsibility of all environmental groups to bring such issues to the public. Along with many other environmental groups, SCOPE makes no apologies for demanding that polluted water not be counted as available in water plans. We are sure the public agrees.

The courts also agree. In a precedent-setting appellate decision in 2004, brought on by the Sierra Club and Friends of the Santa Clara River, the California courts set aside Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Urban Water Management Plan for exactly that reason.
The court stated:

“Accordingly, we conclude that the UWMP’s description of the reliability of the groundwater supplied from the Saugus Formation and Alluvial Aquifer is inadequate under subdivision (c) of section 10631 because of the failure to address timing issues related to the perchlorate contamination. Simply stating that a treatment technology is available and that a groundwater treatment plan is being developed without discussing when the plan may need to be implemented and the amount of time needed for its implementation leaves a temporal gap in the description of the reliability of the water source. This gap renders the UWMP legally inadequate.

Without a reliable analysis of the availability of water, the UWMP is fatally flawed. The public and the various governmental entities that rely on the UWMP may be seriously misled by it and, if the wrong set of circumstances occur, the consequences to those who relied on the UWMP, as well as those who share a water supply with them, could be severe. The ability to modify and review the plan does not overcome the initial failure.” (Fifth Appellate Court, Sept. 2004)

The state Legislature also agreed. Last year they passed a piece of legislation, AB2046, carried by Dave Jones from Sacramento (an area that also has perchlorate contamination) to not count polluted water in urban water management plans.  Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill after lobbying from Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Why would CLWA oppose this legislation if they were already complying with it? One can only wonder.

One reason might be that the treatment facility will only return about half the water to production that was previously produced from the polluted wells. Does CLWA intend to disclose this fact in its upcoming urban water management plan?

The CLWA representative claims that the clean-up was accomplished at “virtually no expense to local taxpayers.” Where did the $4.5 million in matching funds for the study of the pollution plume come from?

We will gladly join with all local environmental groups, that worked tirelessly on the water pollution issue, to applaud the water agencies when the clean up facilities are actually working, and monitoring shows that the pollution plume is being captured.

We will withhold our praise until that time.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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