[KHTS] – Accusations of secret agendas and bad science, support for moving forward on water treatment and a costly bottom line were all topics of discussion for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s three-hour meeting Monday night at Santa Clarita City Hall.
The state board that approves permits for the Sanitation District to treat water in the Santa Clara River’s watershed at two local plants set an Oct. 31 deadline for the Sanitation District to create a treatment plan.
If that deadline is missed, the district, and local ratepayers, could pay fines and, potentially, lose local control when the permits are up for renewal next year, according to Sam Unger, executive director of the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
There was no action before the board at Monday’s meeting, but the Sanitation District’s governing board is expected to move on the staff’s recommendation during a meeting Oct. 28.
“Under state and federal law, we can only (treat wastewater) with permission from (the RWQCB),” said Grace Chan, chief engineer of the Sanitation District, at the beginning of the meeting. “The bottom line is, we must comply with the timeframe.”
Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials must meet certain chloride levels for water they send down stream, levels that are set by the state’s, based on the Clean Water Act, Unger said.
The water is currently at a level of 130 milligrams per liter, and RWQCB officials have said that local officials should be working on a plan to make that level 100 milligrams by the time the permits are up for renewal.
More than 50 comments followed a brief presentation by Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District staffers, who explained why Sanitation District officials endorsed two options for treating local water for chloride.
The options were based on trying to create the most affordable recommendation with the least environmental impact, said Tom Lebrun, department head at the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.
There were four options looked at, Lebrun said: Option 1, a brine pipeline, would cost $150 million; option 2, which would be deep-well injection, would cost $130 million; option 3 involves trucking the brine to a different location for $105 million; and option 4, a phased treatment plan, has two stages and a trigger — the first stage would cost $110 million and the second phase would bring the total to $225 million.
Option 4 was the first choice, with option 2 as a backup, if 4 fails to gain approval.
The prices for the plan that would be paid by the ratepayer were laid out in a presentation by Lebrun.
The current rate for Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District ratepayers is $247, if they use the average amount of water for a single-family home. For a condominium owner, that rate is $203, and the increases are also slightly less.
The baseline rate for single-family home residents who pay into the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, without construction, would be $270 in 2019-20, which is the first year that a rate hike would take effect if construction were approved.
Under the recommended Option 4, the rate would go up by $125 in the first phase, so ratepayers would pay about $395.
Under the second phase of Option 4, if the need is triggered, the rate goes up by a total of $265, so that ratepayers would pay $535 a year.
Option 2, which is known as deep-well injection, would raise the annual rate by $140, so ratepayers would pay $410 in 2019-20.
For businesses, the cost increases are in the thousands of dollars.
A stand-alone restaurant that sits on a 3,000 square foot parcel is expected to pay about $7,176 in 2019, if no construction is approved.
Under the first phase of the AWRM plan, that cost increases by about $3,324 under phase 1 of Option 4, and by $7,044 if phase 2 is triggered, which would bring the total cost to approximately $15,200.
If Option 2 is approved, that cost would go to a total of $10,900 in 2019-20 as the annual rate for a 3,000 square foot business.
The connection fees for developers and new businesses would also see a substantial increase.
The base rate for a new business seeking hookups in 2019-20 with no construction is expected to be $113,685 for a stand-alone restaurant on a 3,000 square foot lot.
If Option 4 stays at phase 1, then that cost would increase by $21,909, and if phase two were triggered, that cost goes up to $45,990.
Santa Clarita Valley options for water treatment
The reactions from dozens of residents and community interests ran the gamut from questioning the science behind the state level to anger over why local ratepayers should have to pay for water that comes in with a chloride level already at 60-70 milligrams per liter to asking that local officials sue the state’s RWQCB over the chloride mandate.
The district has already lost an administrative challenge of the chloride level and nearly exhausted its legal challenge for the cost, Lebrun said.
A recent challenge by the district asking for the state to pay the costs of any chloride facility and claiming its an unfunded mandate is making its way to a hearing with the Commission on State Mandates in January.
Several business organizations expressed support moving forward.
Officials with the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which purchases part of the local supply from the State Water Project and wholesales all of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water to local water retailers, said more local water could be pumped and blended with the local supply to prevent the Sanitation District from enacting phase 2 of Option 4, if that’s the approved choice.
“I think this time around the Sanitation District board realizes it needs to make a decision and they will make a decision (on chloride treatment),” said Dan Masnada, general manager for the CLWA.
He added that regardless of what choice is made, it will be cheaper than the $250 million phased water-treatment plan that was rejected by the board nearly five years ago.
“As far as those folks advocating litigation — they know they won’t be paying for it,” Masnada said, equating the lawsuit option to taking a big chance with Sanitation District ratepayer money.
“It’s taking a high-risk gamble,” Masnada said. “It may not be the odds of winning the lottery, but it’s higher odds than hitting 21 if you’re playing blackjack with money on the table. The probability of hitting that high reward is low or next to none.”
Near the end of the meeting, Kellar asked, in light of dozens of comments decrying the costs, if there would be some flexibility on the 100 milligram per liter chloride limit, should the board approve an option at its meeting next week and move forward on a chloride plan.
“In many respects, I was very encouraged by what I’ve heard today,” Unger said. “The Regional Board is very anxious and we’re willing to work with the community to find the best and most economic solution to move possible going forward.”
Unger said he couldn’t speak for the board, but it there was precedent from the board for flexibility, if the Sanitation District made the effort to approve a project.
“There very well might be some flexibility from the board,” Unger said. “I can’t speak for the board, but it’s certainly my position to make some recommendations to the board.”
“There’s absolutely been flexibility in the past, too,” Unger said. “So, in many respects, I’m very encouraged.”