After two decades of wrangling over ways to reduce the amount of salty chloride ending up in the Santa Clara River, sanitation officials agreed Thursday to pay an Irvine company $87.3 million to build a chloride-reducing plant.
On Thursday, the board of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County approved a recommendation to pay OHL USA Inc. $87.3 million for construction of an advanced water treatment facility at the Valencia Water Reclamation Plant.
And, when officials talk of advanced water treatment what they mean is extracting salty chloride from the water through reverse osmosis. The new facility is to be added to the existing water treatment plant on The Old Road at Rye Canyon Road.
Sanitation board members believe it will enable them to meet water content standards set by state and federal officials as to the amount of chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River at SCV’s two wastewater treatment plants.
SCV’s other plant is the Saugus Water Reclamation plant on Springbrook Avenue, near the intersection of Bouquet Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon Road.
The new plant is also expected to appease downstream farmers of salt-sensitive crops, such as strawberries and avocados, which are grown in Ventura County.
Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste, a sanitation district board member, put the decades-old struggle to reduce chloride contamination of the Santa Clara River into perspective for the dozen or so people attending Thursday’s public meeting at Santa Clarita City Hall.
The chloride compliance project, she said, has been in the works for a “very long time.”
“The farming downstream is very extensive in strawberries and avocados with very specific about what the plant life can tolerate. We’re not sure,” Weste said. “But, we will go with what we are told by the state and its regional boards.”
“When this project started to be worked on, the cost for doing this was considered to be $550 million to maybe $700 million,” she said. “Had we not removed salt-generating water softeners, we would be in a constant battle to add more and more equipment to take the salt out.”
In 2008, local residents voted for Measure S, which banned all brine-generating water softeners in all SCV homes.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represented the county on the local sanitation board Thursday, commended Weste and Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean, the board’s third member, for putting so much work into the chloride compliance project.
“When you’re into something, you’re 100 percent into it, and I think that reflects how committed you are to this valley,” she said. “I feel comfortable about this contract moving forward.”
McLean thanked the Sanitation District for finding an affordable solution to the chloride problem.
“To get an impossible task accomplished, I want to thank you,” she said, “after all of these years, to do it for the least possible amount of money.”
Ratepayers are ultimately the ones expected to pay for the new plant, but as McLean pointed out, the four-year plan is being paid for in incremental rate increases, already in place.
The project includes multiple stages of desalination membranes coupled with an innovative softening system that will minimize the need for chemicals and reduce the amount of brine — salty water byproduct — that must be hauled off site for disposal.
Other board-approved components of the compliance plan are under construction and involve replacing chlorination with ultraviolet disinfection facilities at both SCV treatment plants.
Ultraviolet disinfection is a state-of-the-art technology that will minimize production of potentially harmful disinfection byproducts and thereby enhance protection of public health and groundwater.
“Despite delays caused by legal challenges, we have been working to bring our treatment plants into full compliance with the state and federally mandated chloride limit as soon as possible,” said Grace Robinson Hyde, the chief engineer and general manager of the SCV Sanitation District.
“This is the final step in a process to identify and implement the most cost-effective compliance plan. We continue to focus on moving forward in a way that minimizes cost impacts to our ratepayers,” she added.