SCV ratepayer group sues the sanitation district for the 3rd time

Denny Orellana and his son Michael, 9, take a look at the rain-filled Santa Clara River during a walk in Canyon Country last January. Tom Cruze/for The Signal

As local sanitation officials breathe a sigh of relief this week with news of a favorable court ruling that enabled them to wiggle out from under a debilitating lawsuit, they were hit with another lawsuit from the same litigating group of SCV ratepayers.

For the third time in four years, members of the Affordable Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) has sued the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, challenging reports of its impact on the environment.

“We are obviously aware that a legal challenge was made relative to the recirculated Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that we finished this August,” sanitation spokesman Bryan Langpap said when asked about the latest lawsuit.

The district’s latest version of the documented impact to the environment lays out what affect there is likely to be on the SCV environment when it pursues its plan to reduce chloride contamination of the Santa Clara River.

“Per the recent Court ruling, we will resume work on the state-mandated Chloride Compliance Project while the new challenge moves through the court process,” Langpap said.

The “new challenge” civil action naming the sanitation district as respondent was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 25 by environmental lawyer Robert Silverstein.

The opening page of the lawsuit reads: “This suit challenges the sixth in a series of unlawful environmental impact reports.”


Chloride removal attempts

The Chloride Compliance Project is a four-year promise made to state water officials in October 2013 to reduce chloride contamination levels in the Santa Clara River so that they comply with state levels.

Removal of the salts from the District’s discharged water produces a highly salty liquid waste called brine.

Coming up with the best way to remove the brine has proven to be a challenge for sanitation officials for more than seven years.

The civil suit launched last month by the ACWA is the district’s latest obstacle.

The district’s initial plan to use large scale reverse osmosis technology to extract chloride from the water was shot down by SCV ratepayers in the summer of 2010 over rate hikes linked to its cost.

Sanitation officials revamped their EIR, accordingly.

In late 2013, they decided to bury the salty compound deep beneath the Santa Clarita Valley.

But, that didn’t sit right with the residents of West Ranch who rallied against the plan, prompting civic leaders to announce in March 2015 to move the deep well site away from the Santa Clarita Valley’s West side.

Sanitation officials went back to the drawing board – again – to draft a revised EIR.

They were hit with another setback in February 2016 when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant told the District to decertify its original EIR and to “set aside” all projects until it could comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The district modified its plans again to try and satisfy court concerns about adversely affecting the habitat of the endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish.

On Tuesday, Chalfant ruled to “partially discharge” the writ filed against the Sanitation District.

The green light was given to sanitation officials to carry on reducing salty chloride in the Santa Clara River.

Now the ACWA, with lawsuit filed last month, wants the EIR changed again.


Flawed EIR

According to the ACWA, the sanitation district’s latest report regarding the impact of its chloride-reducing process on the environment is – again – flawed.

“Yes, the ACWA filed a third lawsuit,” Silverstein said Friday regarding his SCV client.

“It shows the Sanitation District (is) violating the law and harming the public through its latest EIR,” Silverstein told The Signal.

Castaic Area Town Council member Flo Lawrence “verified” the 27-page lawsuit with his signature on behalf of the ACWA on Sept. 25, 2017.

The lawsuit asks the court to stop the District’s plan to reduce chloride.

Specifically, it asks the court to: “direct the (Sanitation) District to vacate and set aside the actions approving the Facilities Plan, the Separation EIR, all Chloride Compliance approvals based on the Separation EIR and the Project.”


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