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Diana Shaw: Salt watter daffy in the SCV

SCV Voices

Posted: May 29, 2010 11:17 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

When Jesus said "You are the salt of the Earth," it was a compliment. Fortunately, he missed Tuesday's Santa Clarita City Council meeting. Salt may have been valuable to the ancients, but the SCV has too much.

The problem is salt in our water. Half of our water is local and half comes from the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta (the State Water Project). We wouldn't need all that water if we weren't bursting our seams with population growth.

But, that's saltwater under the bridge. We are here, importing water and that water is too salty. After we use it, the water is treated and discharged into the Santa Clara River, where it flows to the Pacific - but not before passing through Ventura County's avocado and strawberry farmlands. This water is fine for drinking, but for years, farmers have claimed their crops are adversely affected by its high chloride content.

The Regional Water Quality Control board listened to the farmers and decided that we have to lower our chloride level to below 100mg per liter. While most of us didn't know about the board's decision, we did respond to the call to toss our water softeners.

That's why today's chloride levels are down to 80mg per liter. However, during drought conditions, the chloride level increases and the regional board says that's unacceptable.

In 2008, while the Ventura County Agricultural Water Coalition was being a vocal proponent of farming interests, SCV Sanitation District board members unsuccessfully appealed the regional board's decision. The district board includes Santa Clarita's Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, so during this period, acting as either Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem, council members Marsha McLean, Laurene Weste or Bob Kellar served on the district board.

Finally, the district negotiated a compromise providing for the construction of SCV desalinization facilities. The good news, if it can be called "good," is that our $210 million price tag is less than half the cost of what the Regional Water Quality Control board originally ordered.

The Ventura Coalition was pleased, generously noting that it was "not unmindful of limited opposition that has recently arisen among many of the utility ratepayers in the Santa Clarita Valley whose monthly water bills will be increased moderately to finance the construction of the facilities."

What's going on? City Council members responded to Tuesday's Sanitation District presentation as if it was the first time they had ever heard of the situation, expressing ire and exasperation over the actions of the regional board.

Yet, Mayor Weste and councilmembers McLean and Kellar were instrumental in negotiating the 2008 "compromise." Did the Ventura Coalition get the impression there was "limited opposition" from Santa Clarita because our representatives weren't making enough noise?

Speaking of noise, the Sanitation District representative claimed that lobbying legislators to rein in the regional board would have been hopeless. Yet McLean just went up to Sacramento to lobby on this issue. Further, on Tuesday council members proposed contacting our legislative representatives. Why wasn't an effort made to head this off at the legislative pass before the 2008 compromise was negotiated?

None of us wants to destroy Santa Clara River flora, fauna and agriculture. This conflict is about truth and equity.
Al Ferdman, chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, believes desalinization facilities will cost an extra $800 per household. The Sanitation District says the increase will be about $100 a year. Either way, one wonders why we are being asked by the state to exclusively bear the burden of removing chloride from water delivered by the state's own water project.

I agree with McLean, who says the burden should be shared by those upstream. My question is: Why is she suggesting this now, two years after negotiating a costly compromise?

Plus, the economic demands placed upon us are simply not balanced by scientific evidence. On May 13 the Daily News reported
Oxnard expects a bumper strawberry crop due to warm weather, confirming other influences affect agriculture.

If the council agrees to this assessment, Proposition 218 gives us a right to protest if we garner a "no" vote by 50 percent of our
parcel holders. It is unclear what will happen if we do so. The regional board heavily fines jurisdictions that violate its rulings. Litigation won't be a bargain, either.

Because salt is a preservative, the ancients placed a high value on it. Nations rose and fell with its availability. We now find ourselves on the brink of our own salt war.

Let's figure out how we got here so it doesn't happen again. And if we choose to fight, let's enter the fray with our eyes open.

Diana Shaw is a Saugus resident and is running as a Democrat to represent the 38th Assembly District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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