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New plan may stop water fines

Government: Local water district may face a penalty of at least $10,000 a day for each of two plants

Posted: June 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

In a race to ward off hefty state water fines threatened over chloride levels, local sanitation officials are pinning their hopes on a consultant’s plan that re-examines water delivered here from Northern California.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District has less than two weeks to come up with a convincing plan to reduce the amount of salty chloride ending up in the Santa Clara River watershed.

If it fails, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is prepared to fine the district at least $10,000 a day for each of two water treatment plants, according to a warning letter sent by the board to the district.

State water re-examined
In February, local water officials contracted Kennedy Jenks Consultants to gather data that could prove the quality of water delivered here from Northern California is not what it was when chloride rules were laid down.

“If we can demonstrate through the Kennedy Jenks report that we have a plan, we think we can meet the requirements,” district spokesman Phil Friess said.

“The water quality has improved, and if we’re going to build a new plant we have to build it around that,” Friess said. “A good engineering study should illustrate what we contend about changes in the state water supply regarding water quality.”

Chloride problem
In 2002, farmers in Ventura County, downstream from the Santa Clarita Valley, complained to the state water board that the Santa Clara River water was too salty and that chloride was damaging crops such as strawberries and avocados.

SCV wastewater runs through one of two treatment plants and then is dumped in the river.

The water board told local sanitation officials chloride content in its discharged water could not exceed 100 milligrams per liter of water.

The district came up with an alternative water plan — hammered out by several water stakeholders — that the regional water board approved.

The Alternative Water Resources Management Plan called for chloride not to exceed 117 milligrams per liter in wet and average years and 130 milligrams per liter in dry or drought years.

That plan hinged on a number of conditions being met - one of which was the promise the sanitation district would raise sewer rates to pay for a chloride-ridding water treatment plant. Existing water treatment plants do not remove the naturally occurring salt.

In July, ratepayers convinced the three-member sanitation board to toss out the proposed rate increase.

Last month, the regional water board threatened to fine the sanitation board for each day that chloride levels exceed 100 milligrams per liter.

Looming fines
District officials now want to prove that imported Northern California water — which makes up about 50 percent of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water supply — has changed enough to warrant a new deal.

They want to show the cost of removing chloride from the Santa Clara River may not be as high as first feared.

Chloride content measured by the district at the Ventura County line in March was 90 mg/L, 83 mg/L in April and 107 mg/L last month.

Fresh data gathered by Kennedy Jenks could indicate the need for a less-expensive salt-ridding plant, sanitation district officials said.

In turn, the water board could approve a new plan for a more cost-effective chloride-reducing plant.

“I can’t predict what they’ll do,” Friess said.

The water board might just be receptive to the new data, according to a Castaic Lake Water Agency memo detailing the Kennedy Jenks deal.

“Board staff indicated they understood conceptually that elements of the AWRM may be deferred or eliminated while maintaining (Alternative Water Resources Management Plan) discharge standards; however, technical analysis is needed to confirm this.

“If the requested technical analysis is not performed, implementation of the AWRM plan in the most cost-effective and efficient manner may not be possible.”

The district has until June 27 to present an acceptable plan.


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