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Maria Gutzeit: Questions on coming chloride cap

SCV Voices

Posted: October 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Times are changing. People expect more from their government agencies, especially when clarity is needed on difficult issues.

True, many times agencies have to deal with conflicting laws, financial limitations and special-interest lawsuits that make their actions look odd to outsiders. That is all the more reason we are owed clear and credible explanations, especially when citizens make an effort to participate.

The current chloride process is just one that reeks of us all being patted on our little heads and told, “We have it under control.” However, those who say they are in control seem to not be too sure of what they are doing — and they are even less sure how to explain it — which makes a whole lot of the rest of us essentially wonder what the scam is.

As a refresher: Our Sanitation District sewer plants and all other water or sewer dischargers in the valley (that is, businesses and homeowners and, for instance, water districts) will have to meet a chloride limit that was passed by our Regional Water Quality Control Board after hearings back in 2005-2006.

The cost will be hundreds of millions of dollars, plus interest and operating costs. Fees for homeowners will be in the hundreds per year, businesses in the thousands, and new connections (the new job-creators we want) will be tens of thousands of dollars more than they already are, based on financial data released, then retracted.

Despite a 24-plus-year career in environmental regulations, a degree in chemical engineering, a water retail agency post, and a love of Google and public research, I’m not ashamed to say no one is making this too clear for me. And that seems questionable, at best.

Questions abound:

Who lobbied to have our river for considered an “impaired waterway,” making it subject to total maximum daily loads in the first place? Where is our total maximum daily loads document and who commented on it during its California Environmental Quality Act review?

Did anyone challenge that CEQA process, like the cities of Los Angeles Basin did successfully with the trash total maximum daily loads set by the same Regional Water Quality Control Board? The agriculture community had a paid lobbyist working on this issue. Did we have anyone advocating for us? How much have our two City Council members demanded on our behalf as the voting majority on the Sanitation District board?

Why does everyone keep talking about strawberries when, according to the literature review, they weren’t a concern at these low chloride levels? The chloride limit is so low it is less than half that protective of human health — meaning even drinking water could “fail” this limit.

If strawberries ARE a concern, did anyone notice that the agriculture maps show no strawberries to be grown anywhere in the watershed affected by our new, ultra low chloride limit?

There are strawberries in the Oxnard area where, interestingly enough, the chloride limits are much higher — more than 150 mg/l. Runoff water from fields in that area has shown more than 200 mg/l of chloride.

Are farmers ADDING anything to their fields that makes the chloride go up? Why do both EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board state that total maximum daily loads are not “absolute, numeric limits,” yet the Sanitation District seems to imply it must meet the low limit?

Where do our chloride limit and the related discharge permit limits fall on the scale of chloride limits statewide and nationwide?

Did the chloride total maximum daily load limit account for dilution water like rainfall, and did it consider long-term averaging scenarios or lean toward more draconian instantaneous limits?

We know other areas have obtained revised total maximum daily load limits. Why are we being told we “have” to do this “or else?” If most of the state’s chloride is indeed from the State Water Project, where is the statewide outcry to fix that, rather than have piecemeal end-of-pipe solutions?

People are catching on to some of these issues, and there is still time to course-correct. The test will be whether we get good explanations and fair solutions or if we end up with shrugged shoulders, vague answers, and a half-hearted hope that somehow we’ll personally dodge writing that big check for stuff we don’t need.

Maria Gutzeit is an elected official with Newhall County Water District. She is a Santa Clarita resident and business owner. This column reflects her personal opinion only.

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