[KHTS] – Santa Clarita Valley sanitation officials unveiled a plan Monday to raise sewer rates by 16 percent a year for six years to pay for a state-mandated chloride compliance plan.
“The goal has been to protect the Santa Clarita Valley ratepayer from substantial fines,” said Grace Hyde, chief engineer for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.
The move ended the state’s Proposition 218 hearing process necessary for a rate change, which is expected to be approved at a Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District meeting next Monday at Santa Clarita City Hall.
The rate increase is needed to pay for a chloride-treatment plan expected to total about $205 million, Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials said.
To put the increase in context, the current single-family homeowner pays about $247 per year for sewer fees. Under the increase, which affects the rates of homeowners and businesses alike, that rate would ultimately rise to about $370 per year by the end of the rate schedule in 2021.
The state set a limit for the amount of chloride, or salt, that can be sent downstream from local water to Ventura County farmers at 100 milligrams per liter. The state agency responsible for the oversight set a deadline of May 2015 for the district to have a facility in place to lower the chloride in local treated water to that level.
The state’s Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is a state-appointed agency that oversees the permitting of the Santa Clarita Valley’s water-treatment plants.
While the need and science behind the move was scrutinized for more than two hours, Sanitation District officials said ultimately, if the district doesn’t comply, fines will be steep and inevitable for ratepayers.
Had the Sanitation District’s governing board — represented by Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and City Councilman Bob Kellar — not approved the rate increase, then ratepayers would have faced more than $52 million in fines from the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board, officials said. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich did not attend the meeting.
“The discharge level has been set at 100 milligrams per liter,” said Phil Friess, justifying the district’s need to raise rates and explaining a relationship with the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board that’s vacillated between cooperation and contention over the last 10 years.
Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston called the situation Santa Clarita Valley ratepayers were in as the result of a “failure of leadership” on behalf of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s governing board.
Boydston and several other attacked the science used to justify the state’s limit for salt in the water sent downstream to Ventura County farmers. calling it junk science and asking why a field study wasn’t commissioned earlier to prove the SCV effluence wasn’t damaging crops.
“They’ve never been able to show us where there are any damaged crops from chloride,” Boydston said.
Boydston also pointed out the studies were mostly reviews of literature, and panel members who upheld the studies on which the chloride limit was based were linked to agricultural interests in the area.
Even if the Sanitation District conducted its own field study, which would likely take 10 years and cost anywhere from $3-4 million, there was no guarantee the state’s RWQCB would have accepted the results of the study in the consideration of the state-allotted Total Maximum Daily Load, or salt limit, Friess said.
“We worked very hard with the state board — we negotiated those terms, and we agreed to live with the outcome,” Friess said, referring to a previous settlement of fines levied by ratepayers that resulted in the deadline currently facing the district.
The decision not to fund a study was made by the district, because the state board essentially told the Sanitation District that it was tired of the fighting and demanded that SCV officials work with Ventura County on the acceptable chloride limit, Friess said.
“Maybe we should have conducted a study,” Friess said at one point during the meeting, however, district ratepayers’ rejection of a previously proposed $250 million plan left Sanitation District officials little leeway in terms of negotiation with the state.
“When we felt like we wor out our welcome with the state water board and they told us ‘Stop,’ we thought it was probably time to stop,” Friess said.
“Is this the outcome the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District was hoping for? No,” he said. “We were hoping for higher (salt limit). But is it junk science? No.”