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Salty talk stalls rate hike

Environment: Board delays sewage-fee increase for consideration in the spring

Posted: July 27, 2010 10:09 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Members of the audience raise their hands in opposition of the proposed sewage-rate hike during an informal vote taken at City Hall in Santa Clarita on Tuesday.

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The vote on a proposed sewer-rate hike was delayed until spring following a lengthy public hearing Tuesday night that drew complaints from residents.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, one of three members of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District board, called for a delay on the vote, saying the board was rushing to a decision if it voted Tuesday night.

The extension to spring allows rate payers to continue filing protest forms and for a discussion on alternatives to also continue.

No rate increases will be considered until the spring.

A little more than one out of every 10 ratepayers protested the proposed rates in writing, although challengers to it packed City Council Chambers Tuesday night.

It was standing room only by the time the meeting got under way nearly a half-hour late.

Despite the shortfall in written protest numbers, those who stepped up to protest at the meeting did so in less than the three minutes allotted to them at the microphone, covering a wide range of options and suggestions for a panel that included City Council members Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean, along with Antonovich.

Antonovich’s concern, and much of the public’s concern, focused on the amount of chloride in water supplied to the Santa Clarita Valley by the State Water Project.

“The upstream users are the ones that need to comply with the standards,” Antonovich said. “We need to hold federal and state (authority) responsible for modifying legislation so cleanups can take place at the source and not at the end, and to the recipients who don’t have a way to clean up that water.”

The supervisor’s comments were met with raucous applause.

Others echoed his sentiments.

“We’re basically defeated before the battle,” said Nancy Tujetsch, arguing that the chloride levels in the SCV’s water exceed the state-mandated, 117-milligrams-per-liter total maximum daily load by the time it arrives in Santa Clarita.

“We should start growing our own avocados and strawberries and make our upstreamer pay for it all.”

Tujetsch was alluding to Ventura County farmers of salt-sensitive strawberries and avocados, who expect the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to enforce the 117-milligrams-per-liter set in 2008.

To achieve that level, the Sanitation District has proposed hiking sewage rates by about 50 percent within the next four years to build a chloride-removing treatment plant. Additional hikes would be likely in later years.

Water received by the Castaic Lake Water Agency from the state contains on average about 80 milligrams per liter, McLean told the crowd.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board expects the water in the Santa Clara River to contain no more than 117 milligrams per liter.

If the local Sanitation District fails to comply with that standard in the water it discharges into the river, the regional board can fine it $10,000 a day.

“There will come a time when somebody down there wants to grow Montana huckleberries — that’s what I’m afraid of,” said Judd Honadel of Stevenson Ranch.

He was referring to downstream Ventura County agricultural interests.

Carl Boyer suggested that the city file a lawsuit to contest the federal and state laws that set the clean water standard.

“If it’s dirty when it gets to us, then why do we have to pay to clean it up?” Patti Crossley said during the public hearing. “If it’s dirty when it gets here, I’ll be darned if I’ll be the one to clean it up.”

Robert Kelly added his voice to the chorus calling for a cleanup of chloride-tainted state water before it arrives in the SCV.

“Why not build the reverse-osmosis plant at the front end so that we can have clean water, rather than build it at the back end?” he said.

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