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Maria Gutzeit: Better solutions exist for chloride fix in the SCV

Posted: April 9, 2010 5:56 p.m.
Updated: April 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The most expensive solution possible based on bad science. That is what our currently agreed-to “chloride solution” is.  

What are we solving anyway? Our water supply has chloride (salt) levels that come from various sources, the largest of which is the water we import from Northern California. Though the levels are safe for humans, wildlife and there is no reliable data on agriculture impacts, the Regional Water Quality Control Board set a new chloride discharge limit of 100 milligrams per liter into play for the Santa Clara River.

Because of the water quality board’s bad decision, our sanitation (wastewater treatment) plants discharge water that is not in compliance with the new artificially low limit. The current “chloride solution” involves getting variable discharge limits in exchange for us building a plant to clean up a whole bunch of water leaving our sanitation plants for the farmers downstream.

Farmers created plenty of their own problems. For example, some of their regional salt problem is from seawater intrusion caused by over-pumping. They also have problems with salt in their imported water, like we do. Currently, our sanitation district board has decided Santa Clarita citizens are going to pay to fix the farmers’ problems by building the salt treatment plant.

The cost of this fix is at least $250 million. It was agreed to amid threats of lawsuits and misunderstanding of other options. The other options are indeed cheaper and better, and we should be looking at those.

Alternative One would be to say, “You don’t like our water, we’ll keep it.” As water from Northern California gets scarcer (another largely political problem) we need to recycle our wastewater here and use it for things like parks and green belt watering.

By reusing water, we can save groundwater for drinking and household use. Recycling water is very expensive, due to the amount of pipes you have to install and the pumping of the water back “uphill” from the sanitation plants on the west to needs farther east, and $250 million sure would help pay for that.

Currently Castaic Lake Water Agency’s valleywide recycling plan calls for putting a lot of the cost on current residents through wholesale water rates. By using the $250 million to subsidize water recycling instead of treating water for users out of this valley, we’re keeping the funding, and our water, local.

Alternative Two is fixing the cause of the salt in the first place. That $250 million would more than cover our “portion” of a massive fix to the State Water Project, which brings water from snowmelt in Northern California down to the south. Built with earthen levees, the system is failing and we know it is prone to seismic activity.

An earthquake would ruin the levees, flooding housing up north and cutting off Southern California’s water supply. The earthen levee system is operating so badly that agricultural runoff and sea water is getting mixed in with the fresh water, causing more salts to get in the state water supply. That water, while completely safe for humans and wildlife to drink, is delivered to us with salt higher than the new low limits set by the water quality board. We can’t even put tap water in the river. We could and should fix the State Water Project.

Imported state water comprises 50 percent of the supply for current residents. Even with conservation, we need that water. The rest of Southern California has even fewer water supply choices than we do here. Not fixing the State Water Project is not an option. The levees will be fixed either now, or later, after an earthquake. Politically, we seem to prefer fixing things after disasters, when costs are much higher. Why not set aside the $250 million now for a proactive fix for the State Water Project? Such a fix would also help other communities who are in the same situation.

In the Central Valley, they have much higher salt concentrations caused by years of agricultural practices. They also are deadlocked in some costly decisions trying to fix things. Joining together would bring everyone from Sacramento south clean, lower-salt water for much less cost than multiple spot fixes.

I like to think government does try its best. The watter quality board (an appointed, not elected body) made a bad decision and seem unlikely to reverse it. We may have to write that one off.

However, we can change how we react to the board’s decision. Rather than spending money on a salt treatment plant that won’t help our valley, and that will become obsolete when the inevitable fix to the State Water Project happens, we can change course.

We can use the funds to recycle the water and supplement our local water supply. Or we can actually plan ahead and use the money for the State Water Project fix, and get our sister cities up and down the state to do the same. Admittedly, this requires an extreme amount of logic and forethought from government, but sometimes that does happen.

Should you want to get involved, contact our representatives on the Sanitation District Board. They rotate, but per the Sanitation Districts, currently their board consists of Santa Clarita City Council members Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar and county Supervisor Gloria Molina. I will also bring up the matter at the Newhall County Water District.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita resident. She works as an environmental engineer and serves as president of the board for Newhall County Water District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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