A public hearing has been scheduled to discuss sewer rate increases set four years ago to offset the cost reducing the amount of chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River.
“The state, pursuant to state and federal law, is requiring the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to comply with strict chloride (salt) discharge limits into the Santa Clara River,” Basil Hewitt, spokesman for the sanitation district told The Signal Tuesday.
“So, the district adopted on July 7, 2014, sewer service rates for a six-year period — fiscal year 2014-15 through 2019-20 — in order to fully fund this State-mandated chloride(salt) compliance project,” he said.
The rate hike over the next 2018-19 fiscal year works out to about $20 more for the average family ratepayer.
Members of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District Board agreed at a meeting last week to hold the state-required meeting March 8 at 11:30 a.m. at Santa Clarita City Hall.
A single family in SCV paying the district a current service charge rate of $27.33 per month, or $328 per year, is expected to pay $29.08 per month, or $349 per year, under the plan approved in 2014.
When board members met Thursday, they were advised by Sanitation District staffers to merely come up a public hearing date so that they could keep the public informed about rates.
“The state requires that we bring it forward, because we did it (approve the increase) back then,” Sanitation District board member Laurene Weste told The Signal Tuesday.
“The Feb. 8 board actions did nothing to change the adopted Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District service charge rates,” Hewitt said, noting that the District collects sewer service charge on property tax bills, since it’s the most cost-effective collection method.
Thursday’s meeting was a “routine action” required by state law to put the sewer service charge on the tax bills, since rates were already approved in 2014, he said.
More than a decade ago, downstream farmers claimed chloride levels over 100 milligrams per liter in river water crossing the Ventura County line damaged their salt-sensitive crops like strawberries and avocados.
State water regulators ordered the local sanitation district to drastically reduce the amount of salty chloride it was discharging into the Santa Clara River.
Under the federal Clean Water Act passed in 1972, downstream “beneficial users” of the Santa Clara River, such as Ventura County farmers growing salt-sensitive strawberries and avocados, are entitled to uncontaminated river water.
Since 2002, state water regulators have defined “uncontaminated water” as containing no more than 100 milligrams of chloride per liter in the Santa Clara River.
Allowable chloride levels vary throughout the state, but few in the state are lower than 100 mg/L.
For the past 13 years, Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District staffers have wrestled with various ways of meeting the 100 mg/L level for the naturally occurring component of common table salt.
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is charged with safeguarding water quality in the Los Angeles area, heard a promise from sanitation officials in October 2014 that the plan would be put in place and benchmarks met along the way.
When a benchmark is missed, the state can fine the local sanitation district tens of thousands of dollars as it did in November 2012 when it was ordered to pay a $225,000 fine for having failed to deliver on a prior promise.
The cost of such a fine would be paid by SCV ratepayers in rate increases imposed on anyone who uses SCV’s sewer system.
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