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Salty showdown draws near

Public hearing to discuss the Sanitation District’s controversial sewer-rate hike is Tuesday

Posted: July 24, 2010 9:52 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2010 4:30 a.m.

I had no idea, but if (the sewage rate) is going to go up that much, (the chloride) is probably a bad thing. I do think there should be cleaner water, and I’m for better produce.” Anna Lucas, 30, Valencia

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The biggest battle in the on-going water war over chloride happens Tuesday.

Officially, the showdown is called a public hearing sponsored by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District seeking to raise sewer rates to help pay for a $210 million salt-ridding reverse-osmosis plant.

The battle scene is City Hall; showdown set for 6:30 p.m.

While the proposed 50-percent rate increase would likely be felt in residents’ pocketbooks — especially those on fixed incomes — it’s the Santa Clarita Valley business community that stands to lose the most, according to interviews conducted over several months’ time.

“For local businesses, the proposed rate hikes are a knife through the heart.”

That’s what SCV Chamber of Commerce Director Ed Masterson called them earlier this month.

Studies indicate that businesses that use lots of water, including restaurants, could see rate hikes costing them several hundred thousand dollars. The result, business leaders fear, could be a severe setback for the Santa Clarita Valley’s economy, which so far has weathered the recession much better than the economies of most other areas.

District spokesman Dave Bruns, who this month has been fielding complaints and criticisms about the proposed new rates, welcomes the protests heard so far.

“It’s a decision for the community,” he told The Signal early on in the debate.

The ongoing water war pits those wanting expensive chloride-free water to water their crops in Ventura County against those opposed to paying higher sewage rates to provide that clean water to farmers outside the Santa Clarita Valley.

Locals can take action
The Sanitation District wants to build a reverse osmosis plant to comply with water quality levels set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

If the district doesn’t comply, the water quality board could fine it $10,000 every day it fails to do so — a cost that would pass on to ratepayers.

Those opposed to the plan are the local ratepayers themselves — both business owners and residents — who don’t want to pay more money to wash their dishes and flush their toilets.

District officials are compelled by law, under Proposition 218, to offer any property owner who has a sewer connection a chance to protest the proposed rate hikes.

To that end, they mailed each of their customers a “protest form” this summer, enabling rate payers to effectively vote against the rate changes.

As well, The Signal reprinted copies of the protest forms in the newspaper every day since July 24 to make it easier for rate payers to quash the proposed rate increases.

What does it take to win the water war?

A total of at least 34,000 protest-form signatures — representing half the district’s ratepayers — is the silver bullet needed to send everyone back to the drawing board to come up with an acceptable plan.

Rate hike protesters who haven’t already sent in their signed protest forms can take them to the public hearing at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Protest forms cannot be dropped off at City Hall before the public hearing.

However, it’s not likely the whole issue will just go away should a sufficient number of responses be received Tuesday night.

Chloride Levels
Residents and business owners can live comfortable and healthy lives in the Santa Clarita Valley with water that contains 250 milligrams of chloride for every liter of water, according to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Board of Health.

In fact, we can get by just as well — for short periods — with chloride levels as high as 600 milligrams per liter.

But the Regional Water Quality Control Board wants the water in the Santa Clara River to contain no more than 117 milligrams per liter of chloride when it leaves Los Angeles County and flows into Ventura County, where suburbs give
way to farms.

And since Santa Clarita Valley sewage winds up in the Santa Clara River, the cost of removing chloride — much of which is in the water when it arrives in the valley through the State Water Project — is being laid at the feet of local residents.

According to farming interests in Ventura County, any level of chloride in the water higher than 117 milligrams per liter damages salt-sensitive crops downstream, such as strawberries and avocados.

Although The Signal has been unable to find sufficient evidence to back up that claim, Ventura County farmers were able to convince the Regional Water Quality Control Board to adopt the lower chloride level standard because, according to state and federal law, that’s the water quality to which they are entitled.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 and the state’s Porter-Cologne Act of 1969 guarantees to “beneficial users” — such as strawberry and avocado farmers — water as pure as rainwater.

To that end, sanitation district officials must ensure that water discharged back into the Santa Clara River contains no more than 117 milligrams per liter.

In order to do that, they say, they must build a reverse-osmosis plant that would remove chloride from the water.

In order to build it, they must raise local sewer rates.

In order to stop the plan, protesters must sign their forms, add their property-parcel numbers (found on their property-tax notices) and bring them to the public hearing Tuesday at 6:30 p.m


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