In a recent letter to The Signal, SCV Water customer Stacy Fortner expressed concern about the level of disclosure and transparency by SCV Water related to effluent limit violations and a related fine from the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board. Her point was, we could have done more to disclose this, beyond what was done in board meetings and minutes. We agree. Here’s what happened and what we have done to address it.
What was the level of public disclosure and could we have done better in the spirit of transparency?
We informed our board at our March meeting during open session of the pending fines and the operational measures we had thus far taken to correct the situation. We noted at the time that this was an early heads up and the board would later be asked to consider how to proceed with respect to the fine.
On May 15, the SCV Water board considered the matter of the fine. The board met in closed session to discuss the regional board’s settlement offer, because it needed to hear from its attorneys about the strengths and weaknesses of their case. After the board decided to accept the settlement offer, our attorney publicly announced the decision, as required by law, in open session. That action is also reflected in the official minutes, which were published and approved at a subsequent meeting. These minutes appear on our web site. When Ms. Fortner contacted us for further information, we promptly provided it, without the need for a formal Public Records Act request.
Ms. Fortner’s central point is that we could have done more to disclose this issue. We agree — that was our intent. We prepared a summary of the incident and the steps we had taken to correct the situation in early May, for publication on our web site once the board took final action on the fine. However, we dropped the ball. It didn’t happen. This information is now on our website, along with copies of the violation letter.
What happened with the violation and what have we done to correct the situation?
Valencia Water Co. was in the process of installing and testing a new water treatment system at Well V201, to remove perchlorate. It was funded by the polluter, Whittaker Bermite, under a settlement agreement. When we tested the system, we discharged the clean water to a storm drain, which discharges into the Santa Clara River.
Discharging any water to the river requires a permit. We obtained a permit from the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, which regulates water being discharged to the environment. The regional board sets standards for mineral and other quality characteristics of waters that are discharged to the environment – and in this case ultimately the Santa Clara River.
The potable water being discharged during the testing of this treatment system met all drinking water standards and contained no detectable perchlorate. However, the amount of minerals (total dissolved solids, sulfate, or chloride) exceeded the river discharge permit on several occasions. These minerals are naturally occurring in local ground water, and do not come from the treatment process. There were also four instances where total suspended solids or the pH (alkalinity) exceeded limits, and one instance where residual chlorine exceeded the limit.
Valencia Water collected samples and reported results to the L.A. Regional Water Quality Board as required by the permit. We received the notice of violation on March 16. The total fine is estimated to be $192,000. To correct the situation, we now blend the well water with other sources of potable water before discharging into the storm drain. Importantly, this allows the treatment system to continue to remove perchlorate from our groundwater basin at Well V201.
SCV Water is committed to transparency and accountability. We are dedicated to our customers’ right to easy access to information. An information piece on this issue was developed for our website but, due to an oversight, was not posted in a timely manner. It can be found on our news page now at www.yourSCVwater.com. In addition, the “transparency” button provides quick links to key information on finances, operations, policies and services.
Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency