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Drought’s over, but still time to save

Local officials promise to keep cautious water usage despite announcement that dry spell is over

Posted: April 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Water officials vow to continue treating local water as a scarce and precious resource even though the statewide drought is, according to Gov. Jerry Brown, officially over.

“The Castaic Lake Water Agency and the retailers will continue to pursue and encourage a permanent water-use efficiency ethic in the Santa Clarita Valley,” agency General Manager Dan Masnada said Tuesday.
Brown proclaimed an end to the statewide drought last week.

Among other effects, drought conditions concentrate chloride, a salt, in the Santa Clara River.

In response to the drought that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared in June 2008, the limit for chloride in water was reset to 130 milligrams per liter of the salty compound, above the normal level of 100 milligrams per liter. That was with an understanding that 117 milligrams per liter would be the target limit later.

Removing chloride — a naturally occurring salt — from Santa Clarita Valley’s discharged water became a hotly debated topic last summer, when downstream Ventura County farmers said it was damaging to salt-sensitive crops, such as strawberries and avocados.

This reignited a public uproar over rate hikes proposed to address the problem with $500 million reverse-osmosis plants.

With the drought officially over, State Water Project officials plan to release more water to its customers, which include Castaic Lake Water Agency. Adding state water to the local mix will likely lower the chloride concentration.

In seasons of regular rainfall, chloride in the soil is flushed away and chloride in water is diluted, according to Ventura County farmers interviewed last summer.

But that doesn’t mean building the reverse-osmosis plants is off the table.

“We have to come up with a system designed based on the worst case projected,” said Philip Friess, of the Sanitation District of Los Angeles. The district is expected to meet state thresholds for chloride in the water it discharges or risk being fined. “We have to comply all the time, not just in good times, but in times of drought.”

State Department of Water Resources officials last month reported water content in the Sierra snowpack to be at about 165 percent of the expected average.

The department also reported the state’s major reservoirs have more water than normal, including Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta, with 104 percent and 111 percent, respectively.

The governor noted in a statement that, although he lifted the drought, water conservation is key.

“Drought or no drought, demand for water in California always outstrips supply,” Brown said.

Local water officials agree.

“Water is a resource that is quantitatively fixed and we need to do all we can to not just conserve it during dry years but to use it efficiently and wisely all the time,” Masnada said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but also the cost-effective thing to do.”

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