May 18, 2009

Despite Softener Legislation, Sewer Rate Increase Proposed in California

Removal of in-home water softeners did not reduce chloride levels as expected; treatment plants still may need costly upgrades

The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts held the first of five informational meetings about a proposed sewer rate increase May 13 at Santa Clarita City Hall, The Signal reported. The meetings are designed to explain the Sanitation Districts' need for a proposed sewer assessment increase before a May 26 vote on the increase by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, a subsidiary of the County Sanitation Districts, according to Dave Bruns, Sanitation Districts, assistant financial planner.

If the rate increase is approved, sewer assessment rates will jump from $14.92 per month to $47, based on a 250-gal-per-day average, the paper reported.

The rate increase would pay to reduce the chloride levels in effluent water released into the Santa Clara River from two SCV treatment plants, which would get new microfiltration systems if the measure is approved. The current level is more than 140 milligrams per liter, said Francisco Guerrero, a Sanitation Districts civil engineer. The standard set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, controlled by the State Water Resources Board, is 117 milligrams per liter.

The Regional Water Quality Board didn't send representatives to Wednesday's
public meeting, upsetting some residents in attendance.

Bruns gave a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed project, detailing the source of the water problems and how the Sanitation Districts are trying to lower chloride levels.
He brought up the water softener debate, a topic about which many at the meeting are still upset.

Santa Clarita voters passed Measure S in November to approve the removal of home water-softener systems, which were commonly in use at SCV homes. The Sanitation District blamed water softeners for the high salt levels in the Santa Clara River, Saugus resident Dick Trimble said. The Sanitation Districts claimed removing water softeners would save the Sanitation Districts from building a new treatment system, Trimble said.

Bruns backed away from that position at the May 13 meeting.

“We believed water softeners would solve the problem,” Bruns said. The Sanitation Districts believed removing water softeners would prompt the Regional Water Quality Board to raise the threshold for chloride levies during drought years, which would keep the Sanitation Districts from building the plant, he said. However, the Regional Water Quality Board didn't budge on increasing the chloride threshold in dry years, forcing the Sanitation Districts into the proposed project, according to Bruns.

The Sanitation Districts have until 2015 to meet the chloride standards, Bruns said, which means putting a project in motion within the year. If the Sanitation District decides not to approve the project, Bruns said the State Water Board can impose fines of up to $10,000 per day.

“I'm not telling you that Regional Water Quality Board will impose fines; there is the potential the board could levy fines,” Bruns said. The only option to avoid the fines would be to take the Regional Water Quality Board to court and challenge the chloride standards. The chances of winning a court battle against the Regional Water Quality Board are slim, Bruns said.