An ongoing effort by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to try to keep rates low for residents who pay sewer rates was dealt a blow recently by state officials.
Staffers for the Commission on State Mandates offered a recommendation against a claim that says Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers shouldn’t have to fund $250 million in construction for facilities required by a state-mandated chloride level.
Sanitation District staffers filed a claim in 2008 arguing that the state’s chloride level of 100 milligrams per liter is an unfunded mandate, which is unconstitutional in California.
Sanitation District staffers have been working on four options for chloride treatment for the Santa Clara River watershed, and they are expected to release their recommendation Thursday.
The comment period on the Sanitation District’s test claim, which alleges that a water-treatment project compelled by the state’s required chloride level should not be paid for by local ratepayers, ends Friday.
Commission staffers cite four grounds for the board to deny the Sanitation District’s claim that the state should pay for chloride treatment because it’s an unfunded mandate: “(1) several of the implementation tasks included in the TMDL are not new; (2) accelerating the implementation of final waste load allocations (discharge limitations) by one year is not a new program or higher level of service, and no increased costs are alleged; (3) the Alternative Water Resources Management program does not impose a new program or higher level of service, but a lower level of service, and reduced costs with respect to prior law; and (4) even if the Alternative Water Resources Management program did impose a new program or higher level of service, there are no costs mandated by the state, because the claimant has sufficient fee authority to cover the costs of any required activities,” according to a report by Commission on State Mandates staff.
Residents can still offer feedback on the claim by contacting the state’s Commission on State Mandates.
District officials have a hearing in front of the commission Dec. 6, when a decision on who will have to pay for the chloride treatment is expected.
The Sanitation District was fined by the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board members last year in a settlement that ultimately amounted to a $225,000 fee, because officials had missed the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s deadline to come up with a water-treatment plan for chloride levels.
That settlement resulted in an Oct. 31 deadline for the Sanitation District to approve a plan for chloride treatment.
District officials are hoping that the Commission on State Mandates will view the chloride level as an unfunded state mandate, which according to the state’s constitution, compels the state to provide funding for a service or project the state requires.
The effort is part of a lengthy fight by the Sanitation District on behalf of local ratepayers to try and avoid a fee raise for community stakeholders; however, state staffers’ recent recommendation could prove a problem.
An environmental impact report by Sanitation District officials looked at four options that would be geared at lowering the state’s chloride level from approximately 130 milligrams per liter to 100 milligrams per liter, which is a level mandated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which RWQCB members said was based on levels required for beneficial uses from downstream users, i.e. Ventura County farmers.
Chloride treatment for the Santa Clara River watershed has been a hotly debated topic for more than a decade, and the claim on whether it should be paid for by ratepayers or designated a state mandate that’s funded by Sacramento is the most recent effort to fight the pricetag by Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials.
The current chloride level for the watershed of 100 milligrams per liter was set in 2008.
The test claim asking the state to pay for the water treatment facilities required to reach chloride levels that state officials are mandating was filed March 30, 2011.
“As of August, our two treatment plants are discharging at 132 milligrams per liter (at the Valencia treatment plant) and 128 milligrams (at the Saugus plant),” said Frank Guerrero, senior engineer for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.
The chloride levels, Guerrero said, come from a combination of two factors: Half of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water is imported from the State Water Project, which comes in at around 75 to 80 milligrams per liter, and our local groundwater, which contains about 50 to 55 milligrams per liter.
Sanitation District engineers have tried multiple different tacts, including fighting the science behind the level, which was at first upheld and then later rebuffed on appeal, and working with Ventura County farmers.
One of the four options presented by the Sanitation District, option 4, would require the cooperation of Ventura County stakeholders and the state’s RWQCB.
The option is similar to one recommended by Sanitation District staff in 2008, which was rejected by the district’s board because of its cost.
At the Sanitation District’s Oct. 28 meeting, the Sanitation District’s governing board, which is comprised of county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar and City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, is expected to adopt one of the four options presented by district staff.