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Our View: We need long-term water changes

The Signal Editorial Board

Posted: September 4, 2010 1:19 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2010 4:30 a.m.

In the midst of discussion — or argument or mudslinging, depending whom you ask — about the issue of chloride levels in the Santa Clara River and the water we send downstream to neighboring farmers, an important point may be lost.

This is not a matter of Santa Clarita Valley residents versus the farmers of Ventura County. In truth, we’re on the same side, or at least we should be.

The SCV has taken steps to clean up the water it sends downstream. Part of the problem is that the state water we receive ought to be cleaned up before we receive it.

The state wants us to fix its problems.

On the other side of this battle are agencies of appointed — not elected — bureaucrats who aren’t accountable to the public. That would be the state Water Resources Control Board and the nine sub-boards it oversees, including the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which sets acceptable chloride levels for the Santa Clara River.

Appointed by the governor, these individuals cannot be recalled or replaced by the public whose lives they can impact through crippling fines.

Indeed, their very existence is little known or understood by the public.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth gets the problem, and we’re glad he’s trying to do something about it.

Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, backed Senate Bill 1284, which cleared its last legislative hurdle and made its way toward Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk last week.

The bill, authored by Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-Chula Vista, would put a cap on penalties levied against cities for failing to submit wastewater-monitoring reports on time.

The existing law calls for a minimum penalty of $3,000 against wastewater-treatment plants for every “serious violation” — regardless of whether there is actually an illegal discharge of anything.

 Last year, the state raked in nearly $14 million in fines and penalties. The tiny Central Valley town of Dixon, which doesn’t even have a river, was hit with $250,000 in chloride-related fines.

If Dixon’s 16,000 residents can get slapped with a fine, you can be sure our quarter-million residents — with a chloride controversy of our own — will make an attractive target.

A cap on fees is only one step in effecting change, however. The entire system needs an overhaul.

Smyth has said he’s committed to making the water board more accountable to the taxpayers.

Different departments, boards and agencies are producing conflicting directives based on conflicting and inconclusive evidence, and that needs to stop. It’s going to take all of us lobbying the state to flush out the pipes, so to speak.

It’s also going to take elected officials who see how broken the system is, who have the gumption to see it fixed, and who actually follow through on pursuing change.

We believe Smyth is up to the challenge. In his short time in Sacramento, he’s proved himself less of a politician and more a bipartisan representative of the people.

We urge him to stay the course.

Kudos also go to Jerry Gladbach, director of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board, for putting out the call for local residents to pursue seats on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Presently, none of the board members are from the SCV — most, in fact, are from coastal areas, although the board takes in all of Los Angeles and
Ventura counties.

With as large a stake as we have in this issue, we need a voice on the board. Three seats are vacant, and two more will open up in October. Now is the time for qualified men and women to step up to the plate, apply and hope to win an appointment.

If we want to see things change, we need to have a seat at the table.

We don’t need immediate fixes; we need long-term solutions.


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