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The sewage-rate hike’s salty effect on business

Environment: Restaurant owners would be hardest hit because they discharge large amounts of water

Posted: June 27, 2010 9:16 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Hiking Santa Clarita Valley business owners’ fees to pay for a salt-ridding machine is not the way to encourage new business to locate here, some owners say.

Over the next month, officials with the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District will be holding “information meetings” to explain a proposed four-year rate hike for anyone with a sewer hookup.

The district plans to build a $210 million salt-ridding reverse osmosis plant to treat waste water discharged into the Santa Clara River. The goal is to hold chloride in the waste water to 117 milligrams per liter or less to protect crops downstream.

“I understand the problem over chloride and what may be affecting farmers down the river, but there’s got to be a better way of doing that,” said Greg Amsler, owner of the Salt Creek Grille restaurant at Westfield Valencia Town Center.

“All it does is put up a roadblock to future businesses that might want to move here.”

Single-family home basis
In the fall of 2008, a coalition of Ventura County farmers came to Santa Clarita to help figure out a way to reduce the amount of salty chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River before it arrives downstream in Ventura County.

Any amount of chloride higher than 117 milligrams per liter is harmful to salt-sensitive crops such as strawberries and avocados, according to coalition representatives interviewed for The Signal’s recent five-part series on chloride.

As well, any amount higher than that is in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972, putting the local sanitation district in a position to be fined $10,000 a day by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board if it does not comply.

Steve Maguin, general manager and chief engineer for the district, says every property owner hooked up to the sewer system pays the same rate.

“Whether it’s residential, commercial or industrial, everyone pays on the same basis,” he said Friday. “And that basis is based on two factors — the flow and strength equivalent to that used by a single-family home.

“If a business discharges 10 times as much (sewage) as a single-family home, they pay the equivalent of 10 homes.”

He defined the “flow and strength” factors: the “flow” is the hydraulic drain on the actual water treatment plant and system, and the “strength” is the cost to treat that amount of water.

‘Knife through the heart’
“Any kind of increase in fees for businesses is like a knife through the heart,” said Ed Masterson, interim president and chief executive officer of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 1,200 local businesses.

“This could be potentially devastating for people in business,” he said. “An increase could be the wild card that puts them under.”

Increased rate hikes could also deter entrepreneurs from settling in Santa Clarita, he said.

“If you’ve got economic development going on here and you’re trying to attract business into this area, this is a huge detriment to the attraction factor.”

Hardest hit by the proposed rate increase would be restaurant owners because their businesses are the biggest users — and dischargers — of water, according to the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

The agency has drafted a conservation checklist for restaurant owners.

Some of the recommendations include: train employees on water-saving procedures; fully load dishwasher racks; thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator instead of running water over them; adjust ice machines to dispense only the amount
needed; install low-flow toilets.

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