Board members for the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board could consider legal strategies, which include contacting the state’s attorney general, in their effort to prompt chloride-compliance enforcement in the Santa Clarita Valley, officials said at a July meeting.
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The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District has until Oct. 31 to create a plan to comply with the chloride-compliance schedule set by the regional board officials, said Sam Unger, executive director for the Los Angeles-based RWQCB.
However, board members openly questioned whether the latest negotiation was just an attempt to buy more time.
“At a certain point — (Santa Clarita Valley watershed users) are currently in violation. They have not met their deadlines. They’re going to miss more deadlines,” said RWQCB member Madelyn Glickfeld. “Is this just a way to extend the time for them so that they get back into compliance?”
The schedule was created after Sanitation District officials missed a previous compliance deadline set in 2012, Unger said, explaining a process that began in 2002.
“From a water quality standpoint, when we have impairments to beneficial uses, we develop TMDLs,” Unger explained at the July 11 meeting.
Board member Fran Diamond questioned whether local stakeholders and SCV residents understood what could happen if the deadlines are not met.
“Do they understand the importance of (the TMDL) and what the financial consequences are, if in fact, there is continued pressure from our board to staff to make sure that enforcement happens,” she said, describing enforcement as “a priority.”
“We might have to look for other options or other partners at the state level to help us make this move forward,” Diamond said. “I mean, we do have the attorney general who represents us, and I think we might need to be considering going that route because this has sort of been, at this point, more that inflammatory and not willing to do what it takes, what the law requires to be done to protect this water body and public health.”
Unger responded that a “a very vocal minority” in the Santa Clarita Valley made progress difficult by putting pressure on the Sanitation District, which has been working on a solution.
“If it comes to going to the attorney general, that probably is not off the table at this point. But you still have a (Sanitation District) board that’s going to have to do something. You have a very vocal minority that is opposed to it. And so I don’t see any change in that paradigm with this settlement agreement.”
Unger added that the current fine settlement was a step ahead, but the discussion was preparation for the board in case the Oct. 31 deadline for a facilities plan was not met.
The total maximum daily loads are only enforceable through the permitting process and limits for what a local watershed may discharge, based on the downstream water-supply users.
When the previous schedule was not met, regional water officials levied a $280,000 fine, which led to negotiations for a $225,000 fine and the new deadline.
About a third of the fine went to “supplemental environmental projects.
The current schedule agreed to by the regional board and the Sanitation District calls for a facilities plan to meet compliance by Halloween.
In 1975, the state set the chloride limit for the Santa Clara River, which runs through the Santa Clarita Valley watershed for about 100 miles, at 100 milligrams per liter.
The current daily chloride load is about 127 milligrams per liter.
While some stakeholders are calling for administrative or legal relief, that would have to be provided by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Sanitation District staffers have been told by legal counsel that there’s a low probability of success in a legal challenger, said Basil Hewitt, senior engineer for the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“We’ve exhausted the administrative challenges; we’ve exhausted our legal challenges. Suing (the RWQCB) will have a very low probability of prevailing,” Hewitt said.
Sanitation District officials have not ruled out negotiations with Ventura County interests on possibly raising the chloride limit, according to another senior Sanitation District official.
Diamond’s comments at the July 11 meeting didn’t indicate a willingness to negotiate on the board’s behalf.
“In my view, we need to ratchet it up in any way that we can to make this (chloride compliance) happen,” Diamond said. “Because the time is just ridiculous at this point.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News