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CORRECTION: Sanitation district fined for high chloride levels

Deletes paragraph that incorrectly attributes a paraphrase about fines being avoided.

Posted: November 26, 2012 11:44 a.m.
Updated: November 27, 2012 1:48 p.m.
 

 

Water board officials fined the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District more than a quarter of a million dollars Monday, saying the district violated conditions of its permit to discharge chloride into the Santa Clara River.

The district had to chose between two plans for reducing chloride and it failed, according to the water board, to tell the board in writing which plan it would act on.

If it is collected, the fine would have to be paid by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, which would turn to ratepayers for the money. All residents on the sewer system in the Santa Clarita Valley are ratepayers.

However, a district official told The Signal local sanitation officials are confident they can convince the water board by February they are pursuing a legitimate and effective plan for reducing chloride in the river.

Sam Unger, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s executive officer, issued a news release Monday outlining reasons for the fines.

The water board, which monitors pollutants entering natural waterways, has determined the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District failed to submit paperwork on how it plans to reduce chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River.

The complaint seeks a total penalty of $280,250 for failure to complete “Wastewater Facilities Plans and Programmatic Environmental Impact Reports” by the required due date in 2011.

The local district was expected to produce paperwork on its plan to reduce chloride by May 2011.

“The notice was issued because of a lack of compliance (on the part of the local sanitation district) in pursuing one of the two plans,” said local sanitation district spokesman Phil Friess.

The first plan, called the Alternative Water Resources Management strategy, is the cheaper of the two and calls for a smaller reverse osmosis plant run in accordance with better management of water resources.

The other option calls for a full-blown, albeit expensive, reverse osmosis plant.

Both plans call for rate increases — something the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley residents rejected in the summer 2010.

“If a rate package had been approved and we were now in the process of implementing the AWRM project, I do not believe the ratepayers would be in this position at this time,” Friess said Monday.

The Upper Santa Clara River Total Maximum Daily Load for chloride was adopted in 2005 and updated in 2010 to protect the beneficial uses of the Santa Clara River, which includes agricultural supply, groundwater recharge, and rare and endangered species habitats.

“The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is committed to ensuring that all dischargers comply with the requirements of their permits,” Unger said in a prepared statement.

“This will protect and restore water quality and preserve the beneficial uses of the Santa Clara River as a source of irrigation water for agriculture in the Los Angeles region.”

Farmers down river from the Santa Clarita Valley demand reduced levels of chloride in wastewater, saying the naturally occurring salt damages their crops.

In 2008, Ventura County farmers and local water officials agreed on the Alternative Water Resources Management strategy.

“Since the Sanitation District board did not approve the (proposed) rate structure that would have supported the alternative water plan, all bets were off,” said Dan Masnada, general manager for the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

“We were headed for a touchdown. The last play in the game was the public input,” he said.

Had the rates been approved, the regional board would have likely extended interim chloride levels set at 117 mg/L in regular years and 130 mg/L in times of drought.

With the public’s “no” vote in 2010, Sanitation District officials were forced back to the drawing board in an effort to draft a plan the regional water board could approve.

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, one of three members who sit on the local Sanitation Board, said local sanitation officials are on track toward that goal.

“The Sanitation District has been in intense EIR (Environmental Impact Review) facility plan preparations as required under CEQA, to find the most environmentally responsible and economical project which complies with federal and state laws administered through the regional water board,” she said, referring the California Environmental Quality Act.

The public has until Dec. 26, 2012, to comment on the water board’s complaint. The complaints are available for public review on the Los Angeles water board’s website, http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb4/water_issues/programs/enforcement/EnforcmentActions.shtml.

jholt@the-signal.com
661-287-5527

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