Courts resolved three cases in April and cleared remaining legal obstacles
The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District requested in September that water regulators revise the deadline for completion of its chloride compliance project from December 2022 to October 2023, citing delays in equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the construction of the $87.3 million chloride-reducing plant has been completed, according to agency officials. The new facility will be part of the existing water treatment plant on The Old Road at Rye Canyon Road.
“We’ve made great progress,” said Robert Ferrante, chief engineer and general manager of the SCV Sanitation District. “Two of three project components started on time in 2021. But factors beyond our control have delayed completion of the final component.”
COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions have delayed full completion, he added.
The Los Angeles County Regional Water Quality Control Board is the regulator for the chloride project. The board has issued a draft deadline revision for the public to review.
Members of the public can submit comments on the proposed extension by emailing [email protected] by 5 p.m. on Nov. 17. The water board scheduled the hearing for the proposal on Dec. 8 during its regular meeting.
“We do hope that our stakeholders are patient with us,” said Bryan Langpap, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which includes the SCV Sanitation District. “We’ve made every effort to get this thing done as quickly as possible.”
According to data from the Sanitation District, SCV ratepayers saw increases in service charges from 2014 to 2019 to pay for the chloride compliance project. The rates started from $247 per year per single-family home and ended at $370, which is where rates are today.
Without the project, rates would have ended up at $270. The increase of $100 was for the agency to pay for the project, and the additional $23 was an increase caused by inflation, according to water officials.
The agency must reduce the chloride, or salt, in the treated and cleaned water produced by its water waste treatment plants in the SCV. This project has been years in the making — since the 1990s — after farmers in Ventura County complained that the treated water was too salty and it was hurting some of their crops, mainly strawberries and avocados.
“We have two treatment plants in Santa Clarita, where we take sewage and we convert that into clean water,” Langpap said. “The clean water is released into the Santa Clara River, which eventually makes it way down Ventura County.”
According to Langpap, after the agency conducted an investigation, they discovered the farmers were right. State water regulators placed a limit of about 100 milligrams of chloride per liter that can be in clean water from treatment plants.
The agency’s treatment plants discharge about 120 milligrams of chloride per liter.
“We’ve worked with stakeholders and the regulators in trying to find a reasonable solution to the issue,” Langpap said.
However, removing chloride with normal waste water treatment technology isn’t as easy as it seems, he added. The agency needs advanced treatment technology that could implement reverse osmosis, a process used in ocean desalination.
But the equipment needed to induce that process is expensive to build and requires a lot of energy to operate. For many years, the agency tried different ways to solve the issue to no avail.
Ultimately, it was decided the chloride compliance project — the purchase of advanced treatment technology – would be the best course of action to comply with regulations.
Immediately after the agency completed its first environmental review, it faced its first lawsuit, which would eventually total five from a local citizens group called Affordable Clean Water Alliance.
The group won its first two civil cases against the agency, but the remaining cases were dismissed earlier this year. According to court documents, each lawsuit challenged the veracity of the Sanitation District’s assessment of the impact its project would have on the environment.
“ACWA’s legal challenges delayed compliance with the state chloride mandate by two years and cost SCV ratepayers nearly $8 million,” said Sanitation District officials in a prepared statement in regards to the final lawsuits dismissed by the court officials.
The project no longer has legal obstacles, according to Langpap.
But then the pandemic hit, which caused further delays. The project was originally set to be completed by December.
“A lot of the project requires stainless-steel piping, and now there’s these massive delays in getting stainless steel piping,” Langpap said.
It’s not just stainless-steel piping, but specialty equipment such as pumps, valves and more. The agency also needs to have a representative or regulator test the equipment to ensure that it works correctly.
But Langpap reiterated the agency can have the project complete by next year in October.
The Sanitation District will host its annual tour of the Valencia Water Reclamation Plant at 9 a.m. on Nov. 5. The free tour will highlight how the agency converts sewage into clean water, according to Sanitation District officials.
The tour will also provide an opportunity for community members to witness the new chloride compliance facilities that have been completed.
For more information about the tour, visit https://forms.gle/PwDJd6NSyV6BNpR38.