Facing fines that eventually could amount to billions of dollars, Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District released an analysis Wednesday on plans for making sure our water meets a state mandated chloride limit.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL E.I.R. [HERE].
However, the nature of that limit was roundly debated at Tuesday’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting, with several councilmembers assailing the research behind the state’s chloride limit to the point where Mayor Bob Kellar reminded his colleagues that the speaker was an invited guest.
“The Clean Water Act mandates that the state sets standards to protect the most sensitive beneficial use,” said Sam Unger, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. “The most sensitive beneficial use is agricultural use.”
The act supports recreational, environmental and commercial uses for our water supply and effluence, Unger said.
The last use is what drew the ire of City Council members, who assailed Unger’s findings on the water limits for agricultural uses on the grounds that the research used in determining acceptable chloride levels for our water was flawed and financially motivated.
“I’m going to be as respectful to you as I can,” said City Councilwoman Marsha McLean. “But some of the statements that you made are difficult for me to handle.”
McLean said she’d been going to RWQCB meetings since 2002, and that the studies were incomplete, and questioned the logic behind the limit.
“Why is a level of 117 milligrams (of chloride per gallon) per day OK only if a very expensive treatment plant is built?” she asked rhetorically.
Unger said the 117 number was a result of the board being flexible and working with local compliance efforts. But the number would only stay there if local district officials continued to make an effort at compliance.
Councilman TimBen Boydston said the engineers involved in the studies that were reviewed when the limit was set merely conducted a literature review, not field research.
Unger said that “literature” included a large amount of field studies.
Furthermore, the engineers were also employees of the local agriculture interests, suggesting a clear conflict of interest in their findings.
Unger denied these claims, defending the state’s numbers.
“The (total maximum daily limit) is well supported by science,” Unger said, noting that the RWQCB has a history of never having its determined levels overturned.
Councilman Frank Ferry said the limits weren’t based on “common sense,” and questioned why we had to buy it at 130 milligrams of chloride per gallon, but discharge it for Ventura County at 100 milligrams.
“Someone has to listen and finally say, ‘You’re right. This does not make sense,’” Ferry said, adding that Santa Clarita was “crazy enough” to spend $100 million to not put a penny into water treatment and instead, extend Castaic Lake, or look at other projects that would prevent any discharge into the Santa Clara River.
“It’s clear the lobbyists who represent avocado and the strawberry people down influenced the procees through money to bring the standard down. Please do not insult this community that that was not what happened,” Ferry said to Unger. “It’s well-documented. They were political appointees who were lobbied. To say anything else is a wrong thing to say.”
To which Unger replied: “Well then, I guess I’ll choose not to say anything else, but it’s not the truth, though. It’s not the truth,” Unger said.
“Under federal and state law, the state has ordered the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to reduce the chloride levels in the SCV’s treated wastewater to below the state’s strict legal limit,” according to the Sanitation District’s executive summary.
The documents look at several options that the district deemed feasible:
“Two treatment options are potential approaches. Advanced treatment through microfiltration and reverse osmosis (MF/RO) or other similar technologies could be used to remove chloride at the Valley’s wastewater treatment plant and result in compliance. Advanced treatment through MF/RO is considered feasible.
Supplemental water (low chloride groundwater) could be blended with treated wastewater before discharge to the Santa Clara River to dilute chloride levels in the treated wastewater.”
In 2004, the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board-Los Angeles Region (RWQCB-LA), approved higher interim chloride limits to allow the district time to construct new treatment facilities, the document stated.
However, the district has failed to meet these deadlines, Unger noted in his presentation at Santa Clarita’s City Hall on Tuesday night.
That’s what led the district to place a $280,000 fine on the district, which was later negotiated to a lesser penalty.
“(If the district does nothing), what will happen in the future, is that the board will issue these complaints again,” Unger said. “If there is no compliance schedule, the fines will become mandatory.”
The interim limits expire on May 4, 2015. Once the interim limits expire, the Sanitation District must meet the lower permanent limits, or face fines that could, at maximum levels, reach billions of dollars each year, Unger said.
The maximum fine is $10 per gallon per day, with the district’s watershed accounting for about 20 million gallons per day.