Chloride reduction underway despite court challenges

FILE PHOTO. Luz Elena Henao, a treatment plant operator, cleans off large water filters used at the Sanitation District's Valencia Water Reclamation Plant on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Christian Monterrosa/ The Signal

After Sanitation District officials got down to the business of hiring and assigning work to construct a plant that would reduce the amount of chloride ending up in the Santa Clara River, they closed out the day dealing litigation over the work being done.

On Thursday, the three directors of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District board gave the green light to construction, labor costs and equipment that would enable them to keep the promise they made to state water officials about reducing the chloride content of river water.

They approved construction of an $87.3 million chloride-reduction plant, $90,000 for labor compliance services and close to $400,000 in training for operation of microfiltration and nanofiltration water-cleaning units.

The last item on Thursday’s agenda was a lawsuit filed by members of the Affordable Clean Water Alliance against the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.

The civil action undertaken by ACWA is the third lawsuit they’ve filed in the last four years — each one challenging the veracity of the Sanitation District’s assessment of the impact its project will have on the environment.

Closed session

Since it’s a legal matter, board members — LA. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste and Mayor Marsha McLean — joined the district’s legal counsel behind closed doors.

The meeting was described on the agenda as: “conference with legal counsel-existing litigation.”

It named the cases by number and who was invited to the discussion, namely legal counsel and Grace Robinson Hyde, chief engineer of the Sanitation District.

Asked what happened behind closed doors, Sanitation District spokesman Basil A. Hewitt said: “District counsel reported out of the closed session that no action was taken requiring disclosure pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.1.  

“The litigation is ongoing,” he said.

ACWA’s third lawsuit, filed in October 2017, “challenges the sixth in a series of unlawful environmental impact reports” compiled by the Sanitation District, the opening page of the lawsuit reads.

From the district’s perspective, nothing in the lawsuit stops sanitation officials from moving forward with its chloride compliance project.

Alliance concerns

The attorney representing ACWA, Pasadena-based environmental lawyer Robert Silverstein, was unable to be reached Friday.  

ACWA’s third 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.”  

As the latest civil case makes its way through court, Sanitation officials are pressing ahead with their chloride-reducing plan.

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 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 lawsuit launched in October 2017 by ACWA is the district’s latest obstacle.

The district’s 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.

Revamped EIR

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

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

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 to satisfy court concerns about adversely affecting the habitat of the endangered unarmored three-spine stickleback fish.

In the fall of 2017, Chalfant ruled to “partially discharge” the writ filed against the Sanitation District.

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Jim Holt

Jim Holt