Marking a major milestone in a process that’s taken 20 years, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County Board of Directors has hired a contractor to build a new $87.3 million water treatment plant to remove salt and other contaminants from wastewater the city discharges into the Santa Clara River.
The panel’s three members — Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean, City Councilmember Laurene Weste and Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger — awarded the contract to OHL USA Inc. during a hearing at City Hall Thursday.
The Irvine-based contractor will build a new advanced water treatment facility at the Valencia Water Reclamation Plant on The Old Road near Rye Canyon Road, one of two local reclamation plants that discharge wastewater into the Santa Clara, the last natural river in Southern California.
The plan approved Thursday also included upgrades of existing water disinfection technology from chlorine to ultraviolet at the Valencia plant as well as the Saugus Water Reclamation Plant on Soledad Canyon Road near Bouquet Canyon Road.
“That will remove very caustic chemicals from eventually seeping into our groundwater,” Weste said.
The new facility and technology is projected to be operational in four years, with the construction cost passed through to water consumers over “30-something years” via incremental increases they’ve already begun paying, Weste said.
“We will also get revolving state funding at extremely low interest rates to keep costs down,” she said. “So we will be able to pay for microfiltration and ultraviolet water treatment, all state of the art, to not only meet our regional water needs but also to protect the wildlife and vegetation in the river as well as our groundwater.”
Two decades ago, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered Santa Clarita to remove chloride from wastewater discharged into the river because salty water is deemed harmful to wildlife and agriculture downstream, as the Santa Clara flows west through Fillmore, Santa Paula and the Oxnard Plain to the Pacific Ocean.
“We have a state-mandated deadline of July 1, 2019, to have the chloride compliance facilities in place,” said Basil Hewitt, public information supervisor for the Los Angeles Sanitation Districts, which includes the SCV Sanitation District.
Failing to meet that deadline could have resulted in steep state fines or a loss of local control.
“We should now be past all complicated issues with (compliance) with this decision to build the new facility,” Weste said.
“We strongly support recycled water for Santa Clarita,” she said. “Twenty million gallons of water go into the (Santa Clara River) every day, more than half of that coming from the California Water Project. The river didn’t have that much water going into it pre-1962, but as Santa Clarita has grown, so has the amount of water.”
The initial estimates of compliance ranged from $500 million to $700 million. The SCV Sanitation District was established to develop a Chloride Compliance Plan. Over the last 20 years, the district has negotiated with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to make the SCV plan’s scope and cost more reasonable, and to address concerns and legal challenges raised by environmental groups.
In October 2017, a ruling in LA Superior Court partially discharged a complaint filed against the district by the Affordable Clean Water Alliance, finally clearing the path for the district to finish the design of facilities for the various elements of its compliance plan, then select a contractor to build the advanced water treatment plant.
“I think it’s a remarkable good ending for a community that was heavily put upon by the Clean Water Act and the state Regional Board, threatening us with fines,” Weste said. “There was really nobody to help us figure out how to get through the maze and get the cost down and get through the engineering. We faced a lot of lawsuits blocking us from going forward. But the judge, the state and the federal government all said, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ We’ve managed all of these many hurdles and come out with what I believe is one of the best solutions any community in the nation could have.”
More background from the Sanitation District’s website follows:
Wastewater generated in the Santa Clarita Valley, from actions such as flushing toilets and washing laundry, is sent to the Sanitation District’s Saugus and Valencia Water Reclamation Plants for treatment. The treated water leaving the plants that is not directly reused for landscape irrigation and other applications is sent to the Santa Clara River.
While the water reclamation plants provide a high level of treatment, they do not remove chloride. If levels of chloride go too high, they could harm wildlife or have a negative impact on downstream farms that rely on river water for irrigation.
The Santa Clarita Valley water supply contributes the majority of the chloride coming out of the Sanitation District’s treatment plants. The largest added source of chloride is from residences.
The Santa Clara River Chloride Reduction Ordinance of 2008, approved as Measure S by voters on Nov. 4, 2008, required the removal of all residential automatic water softeners by June 30, 2009. Enforcement began on Aug. 4, 2011, to remove the 2,500 water softeners still installed.
Santa Clarita businesses have been prohibited from using automatic water softeners since 1961.
Read more on SCVNews.com about the chloride compliance effort.