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Kevin D. Korenthal: Solutions to our water issues

SCV Voices

Posted: July 24, 2010 5:30 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

As a candidate for the Castaic Lake Water Agency board of directors, I am often asked by ratepayers why the water seems to be of such low quality. They cite taste, hardness and odor as major concerns.

I’m also asked why, if Santa Clarita residents have given up their self-regenerating water softeners, chloride levels in our processed wastewater are still higher than the state standard.

As a member of the board, I will work diligently to improve water quality. Here’s my approach.

The root of the problem
Southern California’s water challenges stem in part from the state of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.

This is where water runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains collects in what is today a massive system of streams and rivers, surrounded on all sides and in between by farmland.

That water is then pumped, in some cases against the natural current of the river, into the California aqueduct system.

As water travels to Santa Clarita it collects a variety of contaminants. Decaying plant life, agricultural and industrial runoff and salt from sea water intrusion invade this pristine product as it moves through the Delta on the way to the aqueduct system.

Moving water through the Delta also impacts the region’s ecosystem.

Compare this to how many in Sacramento get their water, which incidentally, tastes great straight from the tap. That water comes from the Sacramento River at a point not far from where streams feed it. Sacramento’s water has very little dissolved or solid biological elements in it, and therefore, very little treatment is necessary.

Did you say salt?
That’s right. Both seawater intrusion and the runoff from agricultural and industrial production add salt and/or chloride to the water. That translates into pretty high levels (up to 80 milligrams per liter) of chloride before the water even gets to Santa Clarita.

Even without the self-regenerating water softeners, the amount of salt that remains in our reprocessed sewage water exceeds the 117 milligrams per liter standard for farming applications downstream of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Why does it taste bad?
Some have called upon Americans to give up their single-use water bottles and start drinking from the tap again. That’s a tall order for the people of most Southern California communities, because tap water must be processed using reverse osmosis and or granular activated charcoal in order to be drinkable. The method by which Santa Clarita’s water is disinfected, by a chemical made up of chlorine and ammonia called Chloramines, greatly affects the taste and smell. Fill your bathroom with steam and then breathe deeply through your nose if you want to get the full effect of the odor Chloramines leave in the water.

What’s the answer?
The answer is simple, but making it a reality is quite challenging. California needs to build a new water conveyance system, but for too long and for a variety of reasons has not done so. Land owners have enjoyed generations of lucrative water rights and would risk losing that revenue. No-growth environmentalists see better access to water as a hindrance to water-conservation efforts and a possible catalyst for new housing construction. Most importantly, Californians, especially those in Northern California who don’t face the same water problems as we do in Santa Clarita, haven’t been willing to invest and pay for a new water infrastructure system.  

There is a solution on the horizon. The State Water Contractors is a board made up of representatives of water boards that benefit from state water across California. It is already within their power to build this infrastructure and pass the costs along to the water districts that would benefit from this increased reliability of the flow of water.

Terry Erlewine, the general manager of the State Water Contractors, reported to the Palmdale Water District in June that his group has several plans drawn up for a new conveyance system (one that is built primarily underground) and could be ready to issue a draft environmental impact report (known as a DEIR) as early as 2012.

So why aren’t we hearing of any progress? First of all, the $11 billion “water bond” ballot initiative that Sacramento legislators had been intending to place on the November ballot had to be dealt with first. Supporters are in the process of withdrawing the initiative and will go back to the drawing board before presenting it again in 2012.

This presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity today to build a new conveyance system. The farmers in Central California, communities that partially depend on the water (like Santa Clarita) and Sad Diego — that is almost completely dependent on State Water Project water — all have everything to gain by adopting this approach.

When elected to the Castaic Lake Water Agency board, I will work diligently to be a leader in the state’s effort to rebuild and modernize its water delivery infrastructure. Along with the day-to-day operations of our agency and the protection of ratepayers, we must invest time and energy to find a lasting solution to ensure our children and future generations have access to affordable, reliable and healthy water. 

Kevin D. Korenthal is the executive director of the Associated Builders & Contractors, California Cooperation Committee and is a candidate for Castaic Lake Water Agency. He is a 28-year resident of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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