With a potentially precedent-setting hearing scheduled for December, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, is asking the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board for more time on its Oct. 31 chloride deadline.
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“This is a complicated and potentially expensive issue that needs to be carefully evaluated,” Wilk said. “I’m committed to finding a solution that is backed by sound science and least costly to (Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District) ratepayers.”
Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, or SCVSD, officials are currently in the middle of a 60-day comment period for their plan for water treatment.
The comment period ends June 24. Shortly thereafter, Sanitation District staff will be expected to make a presentation to the board on what the preferred plan of action is for addressing the local chloride levels, ahead of the state’s October deadline.
Missing that deadline could mean costly fines for the district, officials said.
“We have to figure out what we want to do,” said Basil Hewitt, senior engineer with the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District. “Unnecessary fines and large fines are a risk that isn’t worth it.”
However, district officials also are looking for ways to do this without passing the cost to their ratepayers.
Recent proposals came with a price tag that could raise the cost of sewer rates by several hundred dollars per year.
Yet, a test claim filed by Sanitation District officials in March 2011 to the Commission on State Mandates calls the water-treatment facility requirement by the RWQCB an unfunded mandate, and says the state should have to foot the bill for chloride treatment.
“What it’s saying is, ‘OK you’re making us do this unfunded — you should be giving us money for this,” Hewitt said. “The (test claim) is another attempt to lower the impact on our ratepayer.”
The move does not challenge that that state can set the chloride limit at 117, or even 100 milligrams of chloride per liter, he said. The claim says if the state is going to set the level, it should have to pay the cost of its own mandate because of Proposition 218, Hewitt said.
Proposition 218, passed in November 1996, which was enacted to ensure that all taxes and most charges on property owners are subject to voter approval.
Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District ratepayers previously have rejected an increase in fees associated with enacting the state-mandated chloride measures.
SCVSD officials were recently hit with a $280,000 fine for noncompliance because it failed to meet a deadline last year for a chloride-treatment plan. It was later reduced to $225,000.
The state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board is mandating local officials to enact an effort to lower the chloride levels in water the local watershed puts back into the river by Oct. 31, Hewitt said.
District officials are doing everything they can to avoid passing the cost of such an effort on to local ratepayers, Hewitt said, including a “test claim,” which is essentially a complaint against the state’s RWQCB.
However, the state’s commission has plenty of claims in front of it, and the hearing has been rescheduled several times. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6, but officials said that date, too, could be changed based on the backlog of cases.
Locally, officials “have no control over” when the state board will hear their claim, said Frank Guerrero, a senior engineer with the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.
“This was filed a couple of years ago by us,” Guerrero said. “The state filed a rebuttal to this claim, and we subsequently filed a rebuttal.”
The claim, if successful, could potentially entitle the Sanitation District to a reimbursement, officials said.
However, there is little precedent one way or the other for agencies challenging chloride levels, Guerrero said, noting that the only similar claims he could point to were for stormwater.
“If you look on this (Commission on State Mandate’s agenda), there are several claims,” Guerrero said. “I don’t know that any have been successful.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News