News Feature | November 6, 2013

California At Odds With Water District Over Who Should Fund Chloride Treatment

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A state agency in California recently shot down the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s attempt to get reimbursed for the cost of meeting water quality regulations. 

"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," KHTS reported last month.  

That decision is not final. A hearing is scheduled for next year. 

The Commission of State Mandates reviews claims by local governments to decide if they should be reimbursed for carrying out mandates made by the state. In California, unfunded mandates are unconstitutional.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County had filed a claim stating it should be reimbursed for the costs of meeting water quality expectations imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Los Angeles region five years ago. 

The move was part of "an ongoing effort by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to try to keep rates lower for residents who pay sewer rates," according to KHTS. 

The district said that meeting the standards would "require significant advanced treatment and other technological upgrades, and a number of other water supply control measures to control chloride concentrations in the Santa Clara River, especially during periods of higher concentration in the water supply and groundwater," according to a draft of the decision. 

The measure also required the district to perform technical studies on surface and groundwater, which the district expected to cost around $6.6 million. The district said the upgrades would cost around $250 million in total.

But the state was not convinced. 

That's because the prior standard had set the total maximum daily load (TMDL) at 100 mg/L for the Santa Clara River and waste load allocations (WLAs) of 100 mg/L for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s (District) wastewater treatment plants. 

According to the state, the new standard provided "greater flexibility to claimant with regard to chloride discharges into the river," the state said. The new rules also "significantly reduced the costs to comply with the TMDL and WLAs when compared to the prior TMDL."

For an advocacy document on the history of Santa Clara River chloride limit, provided by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, click here

"The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s two wastewater treatment plants were constructed more than a decade before state regulators set a chloride limit of 100 mg/L for treated wastewater discharges into the Santa Clara River," the district said.

“Its facilities were not designed to reduce chloride levels and are unable to achieve the 100 mg/L limit without significant upgrades.” It has lobbied the state to change the chloride limit. 

"These efforts have been met with significant resistance by state regulators, who have refused to modify the limit, and have recently threatened to impose substantial fines if chloride levels are not reduced below the legal limit. These fines would have to be paid by all ratepayers," it said. 

For more coverage of California water policy on Water Online, click here