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Santa Clarita Sanitation District officials received hundreds of comments about its chloride treatment plans before the public-comment period closed Wednesday, said Basil Hewitt, engineer for the SCV Sanitation District.
“When I checked about two weeks ago, we had at least 200 comments, and staff had worked their way through about half of them,” Hewitt said.
There are essentially four options for ratepayers in the Santa Clarita Valley’s watershed: Residents can do nothing, which likely will result in additional fines; residents can seek administrative relief, which officials have said is unlikely to be achieved, because the region has already been fined for noncompliance with the state’s chloride level; residents can sue the state over the limit, which is unlikely to be successful; or they can choose one of the chloride-treatment options, which are laid out in a draft environmental impact report that’s about to end its public comment period, Hewitt said.
If Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials don’t approve a chloride-treatment plan by Oct. 31, which was a deadline negotiated in the fine settlement, there’s a high probability there will be more fines, Hewitt said.
“If we don’t have an approved plan by that date, we expose the district and our ratepayers to unnecessary and wasteful fines,” Hewitt said.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District was hit with a fine of $280,000 last year, which was later negotiated down to $225,000.
Some of that money was used to pay for local efforts to improve its discharge into the local watershed.
Lawyers for the Sanitation District have already tried and failed to challenge the state’s chloride limit of 100 mg/liter, which was set in 1975, Hewitt said.
“We’ve obtained the best legal counsel, and looking at the legal precedence, we have a low probability of succeeding,” Hewitt said.
In a presentation to the Regional Board on July 11, Sam Unger, executive officer for the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the Sanitation District successfully challenged the state’s level of 100 mg/ltr in 2002.
The level was remanded back to the board for further study.
In 2006, the board re-adopted the level after three years of studies, according to Unger’s notes.
Ultimately, a Sanitation District challenge in 2009 questioned the science behind the chloride limit, which is intended to protect downstream watershed users, such as the agricultural needs in Ventura County.
The limit was eventually upheld by the state board, which reviews all actions by the Regional Board for which Unger is executive officer.
The state board affirmed the 100 mg/ltr limit and called for a deadline of 2011 to meet that limit. The Sanitation District missed that deadline after the $210 million Alternative Water Resources Management plan was scrapped due to local protest, which resulted in the $225,000 fine.
The resulting fine settlement called on the Sanitation District to create chloride treatment options, which are currently being reviewed.
Four options are being looked at by the public and district officials.
A pipeline is alternative 1; alternative 2 calls for deep well injection; alternative 3 calls for a reverse osmosis plant and trucking; and alternative 4 calls for a phased plan — Phase I includes UV disinfection, supplemental water and groundwater wells and distribution piping in the Piru basin, and Phase II includes the addition of a new facility and a pipeline.
While a Castaic Lake Water Agency official has publicly supported Alternative 4, which, if it stays in Phase I, would be the least expensive option of the four alternatives, the Regional Board overseeing the fines suggests that Phase II of Alternative 4 would likely be necessary.
In the Regional Board’s comments to the Sanitation District, it expresses concern over Alternative 4, noting possible delays associated with the construction of the Bay Delta Conveyance Facilities, which could take 25 years to construct.
“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.
In a presentation to the state’s Regional Board on July 11, Unger made the following comments:
“The (fine) settlement agreement is effective in moving the Sanitation District towards compliance in the short term, there may be additional items before this Board to effectuate compliance in the long term, and I expect that the Board may need to take additional actions, be they Basin Planning actions or additional enforcement actions to resolve this issue.”