The Santa Clarita Valley’s wastewater is so full of chlorides – i.e., salt – that it threatens to make the downstream farmers’ strawberry and avocado crops wither and die.
While the truth of that statement is open to debate, what isn’t open to debate is that the agency that’s responsible for the SCV’s wastewater is being forced by state and federal regulators to assume it’s true, and do something about it.
That won’t happen right away; it will likely be early next year before the staff of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District decides on a way to bring the SCV’s wastewater into compliance with state and federal laws regulating chloride emissions.
We’re close. Some officials say that thanks to the elimination of most self-regenerating water softeners in the SCV – the type that you pour salt into – chloride emissions are down to around 115 parts per billion … in August, a hot summer month when chloride levels tend to spike.
That doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not; in fact, it’s within the 100-120 range state regulators are seeking, and it’s far lower than the 200 parts per billion the SCV was sending downstream a couple of years ago.
The question is whether the emissions can stay that low, and to ensure it, the Regional Water Quality Control Board has been telling the local water emitters, chiefly the SCV Sanitation District, that they’ve got to treat the SCV’s wastewater further, before it’s dumped into the Santa Clara River and ultimately emptied into the Pacific Ocean.
The fact that the Pacific Ocean is rather salty isn’t part of the discussion. It’s the farmers of the Santa Clara River Valley, in between the SCV and the ocean, who say they’re suffering.
Plans to address the problem a few years ago called for a filtration plant that might have cost sanitation district rate payers – i.e., SCV property tax payers – upwards of $500 million. By the time the plant was officially proposed it was down to around $250 million – but that was still too much for the sanitation district board, which would have had to levy taxes of several hundred dollars on each SCV homeowner to pay for it.
Now the sanitation district is working toward a much less costly solution.
“The sanitation district is hopeful that the recommended project presented in the draft EIR early next year will have a much lower capital cost (than the $250 million project). However, it will remain a costly project,” said Philip L. Friess, head of technical services for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. (The county’s various sanitation district, including SCV’s, share a professional staff but have their own boards. The current SCV district board members are City Councilwowmen Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.)
The question of what type of project the staff will recommend is premature, Friess indicated.
“The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District is still working to identify a recommended project and finalize a project schedule for its chloride (emission) compliance project.”
Much goes into making a staff recommendation, Friess said.
“The first step in the process to identify a recommended project is to analyze a wide range of alternatives and determine which alternatives meet project goals and objectives. The most important objective is to comply with all regulatory requirements. Alternatives that meet project objectives are then evaluated on factors such as: cost (capital and operating), energy demands, environmental impacts, public acceptance, ability to implement by deadline, and constructability.”
Then, “A draft report that shows the costs and rankings of the alternatives is circulated for public review and comment,” Friess said. “As part of this process, a series of meetings will be held in the Santa Clarita Valley. After careful consideration of all comments, a final report is published that provides written responses to all public comments and proposes a recommended project.”
He said the district is hopeful the environmental documents would be published in “early 2013.”
Then there would be several decisions for the board to make relating to how to pay for it.
Two basic options, Friess said, are loans from the State Revolving Fund and revenue bonds.
“The preferred financing option at this point would be SRF loans due primarily to the low interest rates associated with this alternative along with the payback schedule,” he said.
SRF is the State Revolving Fund, and the loans would have a “ very low interest rate” and a 20-year repayment schedule, he said.
If the board members choose to go that route, they’d have to make three decisions: They’d vote to direct staff to apply for the loan; then they’d have to vote exactly what the money would pay for; and finally they’d have to identify what money they’d use to repay the loan.
Friess noted there’s no guarantee the state will have money to loan in the future.
In that event, the board could opt to issue revenue bonds.
If it did, “the financing would be accomplished through the issuance of revenue bonds by the Sanitation Districts’ Financing Authority. Prior to the issuance of the bonds, the Board of Directors for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District would have to take a series of actions to authorize the issuance of the bonds.”
They’d be repaid over 30 years at and interest rate that’s linked to the credit rating of the sanitation district.
They’re not like school bonds where voters give thumbs-up or thumbs-down on election day.
“A vote of the electorate is not required to issue the revenue bonds,” Freiss said.
However, the voters would have a chance to shoot down the proposal before the cost shows up on their property tax bills, he said.
Under Proposition 218, property owners must be notified before an agency can impose a significant rate hike. If more than 50 percent of rate payers protest it, the plan dies.
SCV rate payers had the same opportunity with the earlier $250 million proposal – but fewer than 50 percent protested it. Instead, that proposal was nixed by the sanitation district board members.