Water Board denies Chiquita permit to expand 

Supervising AQMD Inspector Larry Israel shares a photo of a leachate geyser that occurred while he was inspecting Chiquita Canyon with an EPA official. The text was the accompanying question asked by the AQMD official. Israel's answer was an emphatic no. Courtesy photo
Supervising AQMD Inspector Larry Israel shares a photo of a leachate geyser that occurred while he was inspecting Chiquita Canyon with an EPA official. The text was the accompanying question asked by the AQMD official. Israel's answer was an emphatic no. Courtesy photo
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In the latest rebuke from Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s regulators, the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board denied a Jan. 4, 2022, application the landfill sought to expand operations with the “East Canyon Project.” 

The rejection later, dated March 1, involved a plan to expand the facility at “cells 7,9, 10,11 and 12, in the East Canyon area of the landfill, northeast of the cells in current use.” 

It’s the latest blow in a streak of regulatory hits to the landfill, which also recorded violations from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control on Feb. 21 over its handling of leachate, stating the landfill discharged toxic water pumped from its soil to a Gardena facility not permitted to handle it. 

Later that same week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency stated the landfill presents an “imminent and susbtantial endangerment” in violations related to its air and water pollution. 

The series of regulatory issues, as well as thousands of complaints from residents that have led to hundreds of violations from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors the landfill’s air pollution, led L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger to call on state agencies to help her pull the landfill’s permits. 

She also issued a Feb. 8 call on the landfill to provide relocation assistance to the residents impacted by the smell while the landfill works to address the problems, which she said increasingly “appear to have no end in sight.” The landfill has agreed to the request but has yet to release any information about its program. 

A State Water Board official was not immediately available to respond to comment, but the concerns in the letter echo what regulatory agencies have cited at the Castaic facility in recent months.  

“The landfill is currently experiencing an elevated temperature landfill event (“ETLF” or “reaction”) that is generating increased volumes of leachate that are overwhelming landfill’s containment systems,” according to the water board’s letter. “On Oct. 3, 2023, Los Angeles Water Board staff conducted an inspection at the Landfill during which a leachate seep was observed at the northwestern portion of Main Canyon that flowed from the edge of the landfill to a concrete V-ditch. The V-ditch widens to a flat-bottomed ditch on its course to the stormwater debris basin at the front of the landfill. Chiquita Canyon, LLC placed several soil berms along the flat-bottomed ditch to capture and pump off the leachate before it reached the debris basin. On Nov. 2, 2023, a joint inspection was conducted by multiple regulatory agencies during which Los Angeles Water Board staff observed that the leachate seep was still occurring at the landfill,” according to the letter from the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board. 

Chiquita Canyon Landfill did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. Its representatives have repeatedly stated the landfill is working cooperatively with its regulators, which county officials cited as another challenge to local agencies pulling its permit to operate. 

It’s unclear if this could represent a pending closure or how much the move impacts the landfill’s future, as the rejected application appears to only apply to currently unused cells, per the water board’s letter. The landfill sought and received a 30-year extension in 2017, and at that time, capacity issues at the current facility were brought up as a concern.  

That permit extension led to Chiquita Canyon Landfill immediately suing L.A. County to reduce its obligations, which it did successfully in 2022, leading to a new settlement agreement with county officials. Barger also cited the landfill’s previously successful legal challenges as part of why she was calling on the state for help. 

The move from the regional arm of the State Water Board on the more than 2-year-old application comes days after Barger sent a letter to Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, asking for help, which Schiavo said she responded to that day. 

Barger’s office was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Val Verde residents also filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to shut down the landfill on Feb. 22. 

Schiavo sent a letter that day seeking more involvement with state agencies, a spokesman for her office said Friday, sharing a statement from the office in response to the news from the water board.

“At the state, we take public health and environmental crisis at Chiquita Canyon Landfill very seriously. The LA Regional Water Board — which is the local agency of the State Water Board — has been monitoring and investigating this concerning situation for months. This most recent action is the result of our commitment to protect the surrounding and impacted community. I am grateful for the recent steps taken by the Los Angeles Regional Water Board to mitigate further environmental and public health damage in our community,” she said Friday in a statement sent via email. “Our efforts have been, and will continue to be, aimed at ensuring community safety and public health are the top priority. We will continue our work to engage with all related state agencies to navigate through the ongoing crisis with the urgency it deserves.”

The plaintiffs in that suit are represented by Castaic Area Town Council member and attorney Oshea Orchid, who said Wednesday the EPA’s report was added to the suit Monday. It’s currently awaiting a hearing date.

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