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Cam Noltemeyer: Development should pay for chloride

Environmentally speaking

Posted: June 9, 2010 10:09 p.m.
Updated: June 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The federal Clean Water Act was passed in the early 1970s. It is responsible for cleaning up much of the terrible pollution that plagued our nation's waterways at that time. It requires states to identify water bodies that do not meet water-quality standards.

The Santa Clara River was placed on the "impaired water body" list in 2002 because of high chloride levels that affect its "beneficial" uses. The Clean Water Act names a number of uses for our rivers and streams as "beneficial." These include drinking water, recreation, agriculture and wildlife habitat.

In 1975, beneficial uses for the Santa Clara River included agricultural water supply and groundwater recharge. In 1978, the limit of 100 milligrams per liter was set for the chloride level in the river. This is not a new issue, yet Los Angeles County and the city of Santa Clarita continued to approve massive development.

Thus, even though a chemical in a river or stream might not hurt humans if they drink it, if it kills wildlife or destroys the ability to farm, the Clean Water Act still requires that the chemical or mineral may not be released to the river in levels higher than those that are naturally occurring.

So, if bacteria levels, for instance, get so high that they hurt fish or make children sick when they swim in the river, bacteria levels must be reduced.

In the case of the Santa Clara River, the chloride level (salt) in imported state water is so high that it hurts downstream farming and groundwater recharge. Our Sanitation District has been ordered to reduce its releases of chloride into the Santa Clara River.

While most people would agree that the Clean Water Act is an important law that has helped to clean up the nation's waterways, and that the Santa Clarita Valley should have the best water quality possible for all the beneficial uses of the Santa Clara River, there is often a disagreement about how to make that happen and who should pay for the needed improvements.

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) has long supported the concept that the polluter should pay for the cleanup, and new development should pay for itself. Taxes should not be levied on existing residents to help developers increase their profits, nor should the public have to subsidize corporations that pollute.

The polluter in this case is the imported state water.

After attending yet another discussion at Tuesday's City Council meeting on how to pay for the needed improvements to reduce chloride levels, it appears that this is exactly what is going on.

For instance, while injecting brine into deep abandoned oil wells might reduce the cost of eliminating the chlorides, these wells seem to be the very wells proposed for the new sanitation plant that must be built by Newhall Land Development for the Newhall Ranch project. Reverse osmosis is required for this plant, including the use of deep oil wells to dispose of the salts. A separate sanitation district has already been formed for the Newhall Ranch project.

Should current residents pay for building the facilities required for the huge 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project? We think not. Funding for these wells should come from connection fees from the new development.

In a Signal article last June, reporter Brandon Lowrey quoted Sanitation District engineer Steve McGuinn as saying that the board, at that time, chose raising sewer-connection fees over a sharper monthly fee for residents to avoid essentially punishing current residents for the valley's growth.

City Councilman Frank Ferry was quoted in the same article as saying, "If you lived in Santa Clarita 25 years, your quality of life shouldn't change because of the new 3,000 people or the new restaurants."

All new growth is supplied by imported state water. State water causes most of the high salt content in our sewer water. New development will increase the amount of salt in our sewage water. New development connection fees should pay for the cost of this increased salt level.

It was also apparent from Tuesday's meeting that the public does not understand the $250 million Alternative Compliance Plan that will require the very expensive reverse-osmosis plant, even with any legislative strategy and legal strategy changes that the City Council requested of the Sanitation District.

The Proposition 218 tax-increase notice has been approved. A public hearing is set for July 27. Our community must present a majority protest by this time or this tax will be approved.

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


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