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Agency fined for ‘chronic’ problems

Water: State department charged for discharging muddy water from Pyramid Lake

Posted: November 23, 2010 12:12 a.m.
Updated: November 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

The state department responsible for delivering water to Santa Clarita Valley from Northern California has been charged $33,000 for discharging muddy, greasy water from Pyramid Lake, officials said Monday.

The California Department of Water Resources — which operates the California State Water Project that protects, conserves and manages the state’s water supply — paid the fines in September.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued fines against the water department after logging 16 violations over 13 days when water discharged from the William E. Warne Power Plant at Pyramid Lake exceeded specified effluent limits set according to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

All but three of the 16 water quality violations were deemed “chronic” problems by the board.

The three other violations were for excessive amounts of oil and grease in the discharged water and were called “serious” in the board’s “notice of violation” assessment.

The “oil and grease” content of the water leaving the power plant in spring 2009 exceeded set thresholds by 93 percent in April that year and by 200 and 350 percent two months prior to that.

The California Department of Water Resources owns the power plant that sends state water to Castaic Lake.

Its man-made lake and reservoir near Castaic was created in 1973 when it built Pyramid Dam.

The water it sends downstream from there to Castaic Lake is processed by the Castaic Lake Water Agency, one of 29 agencies contracted to receive water via the State Water Project.

The agency buys Northern California water wholesale from the State Water Project and sells it to four Santa Clarita Valley water retailers, including the Newhall County Water District.

Half the water delivered to residents in Santa Clarita Valley comes from the State Water Project and the rest from natural aquifers.

Regardless of its content before state water gets to the agency, Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers receive clean drinking water in the end.

“The purpose of our treatment plants is to treat and disinfect the water to ensure they meet all drinking water quality standards, which they do,” said Dan Masnada, the agency’s general manager.

To call the sampled effluent out of Pyramid Lake “greasy, muddy acidic water,” he said, is an overstatement.

The violations are “intermittent,” he explained. They are not much above the standards and “do not reflect the overall water quality we treat at our two treatment plants.”

Does it cost the agency more to treat murky greasy water?

No, Masnada said.

By contrast, heavy rains often prove to be more of a challenge for the agency, and more costly, he said, saying the rains “turn the lake into the color of chocolate milk, as happened four winters ago.”

Regardless, murky water discharged from Pyramid Lake, described officially by the board as “turbidity,” was to blame for seven of the 16 water-quality violations cited.

“Turbidity is described as water that is not clear,” said department spokesman Ted Thomas. “It’s defined as thick or opaque with particular matter in the solution.”

It accounted for close to half of the department’s water quality violations.

On three separate days in 2008, water quality scientists with the California Integrated Water Quality System found the
acidic level of sampled water to be out of balance with state standards.

Water is too acidic if it has an pH level less than 6.5 — table vinegar, for example, has a pH level of 3.4. If the sampled water exceeds 8.5, it is deemed to be too alkaline.

On two occasions, water examiners found the water discharged at Pyramid Lake to be 8.7, and, on Nov. 12, 2008, it was tested at 8.6.

Some of the substances that tip the acidic balance of water are alkaline compounds, which are basic ionic salts, such as chloride.

Excessive chloride levels in state water has been hotly contested topic among many local residents who are expected — at great cost — to reduce chloride levels in river water leaving Santa Clarita Valley over the next couple of years.

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