Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials plan to be in Sacramento on Jan. 24 to see if they can lessen the local cost of a state-mandated chloride limit in local water, an official said Thursday.
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“The hearing is to protect our ratepayers,” said Basil Hewitt of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District. “Our claim for this unfunded mandate is another attempt to lower the impact for our ratepayers from having to bear the cost of this state-mandated chloride limit.”
There will be a hearing at 10 a.m. with the Commission on State Mandates in the state’s capital, which will determine whether the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s customers will have to bear the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in construction.
A chloride-treatment construction project was authorized by the Sanitation District’s governing board in Oct. 28, in response to fines and threats from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control board.
Related article: Chloride Plan Approved For Santa Clarita Valley Residents
Regional Water Quality Control board officials, who are appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, decided there was too much chloride, or salt, in water sent to downstream users in Ventura.
Sanitation District officials determined that in order to reduce the chloride level to meet the state mandate, a construction project would be needed.
Who should have to pay those costs is the subject of the hearing.
“Essentially, the (state’s) constitution requires the state to reimburse local governments for any state-mandated new program or higher level of service,” said Heather Halsey, executive director for the Commission on State Mandates.
Sanitation District officials contend that because the chloride limit is being mandated by the state, that chloride treatment-related construction qualifies as a state mandate.
“At its essence, this Test Claim is about a state agency requiring a local agency to spend over $130 million to “clean up” a natural condition in order to prevent an unproven harm to an adjacent county,” said Claire Hervey Collins, an attorney hired by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District. “(The) Santa Clarita Valley is being forced to pay to solve a speculative problem with origins and effects that are outside its jurisdiction…”
If the claim is successful, it would mean state officials would have to provide some sort of funding source for the project.
A report by Commission on State Mandates staff refutes Sanitation District officials’ request on the basis of a several of the district’s claims.
Related article: Staff Report Says Chloride Costs Should Be Paid By Ratepayers
“Here, what staff has found is that the requirement is actually a reduced level of service compared to the previous (chloride allowance),” Halsey said in an October interview.
The claim was filed using conditional drought limits of 117-150 milligrams per liter, which is less than the state-mandated level, Halsey said, which is why the applicable law called for staff to recommend a denial.
The state is actually mandating a level of 100 milligrams per liter, according to information presented by the Regional Water Quality Control and Sanitation District boards.
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.
The hearing, which originally scheduled for last year, has been delayed several times, according to officials.
“As our board has requested, we will continue to pursue other funding option,” Hewitt said, “which again will minimize the impact on our ratepayers.”
Residents can still offer feedback on the claim by contacting the state’s Commission on State Mandates.
There’s also information available on the state commission’s website, which has a list of activity on the claim.
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Source: Santa Clarita News