Put-Down-that-Saltshakerby Lynne Plambeck

High salt levels in state water delivered from northern California have been a concern to many communities for some time.  The salt comes mostly from ocean water that mixes with fresh water in the Delta area and then is pumped into the aqueduct for delivery to Southern California.  The drier the weather, the more likely this phenomenon called “salt water intrusion” is to occur.  Reduced snow pack in the Sierras, now predicted to occur more often due to climate change, will increase salt-water intrusion in the Delta.

While the water is still drinkable, it may affect the ability to grow crops in some areas and has other negative affects on the natural environment. To understand the devastation brought by something so common as salt, we have only to remember the ancient wars of Greece, Troy and Carthage that ended in conquering army salting the earth so that no crops could ever be grown there again

Salt levels in the Santa Clara River are already affecting downstream crops. Salt levels build up in ground water basins and fields.  It is important that we address this problem now before it worsens.

Some areas in Los Angeles County solved the problem by building a brine line to the ocean to carry away the excess salt. In others, dumping the salty water into a concrete channel was not a problem because it had no way of seeping into the ground water.

Neither of these solutions is available in the Santa Clara River watershed. Building a brine line is estimated to cost some $50 million. Concreting the river, is certainly not an option at all. We do not want to repeat the errors of engineering design made on the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers that would result in the loss of our ground water recharge and open space.

Some demand that we force the state to remove the salts. Such a solution is not fiscally sound.  Water treated by the State at huge expense (if it is even possible to treat such a large quantity of water) would still have to be treated again when it reaches Santa Clarita to ensure that pollutants from run off are removed before it is served to the public.

Some argue that building the peripheral canal around the Delta will solve the salt-water intrusion problem and eliminate the need for local clean up. The total cost of this solution is estimated to be $50 billion.  I wonder where the state will find this money with the current Republican minority in the legislature voting against any new taxes.  Will other areas of California that don’t receive state water, vote to fund it rather than schools and other social services?

Local residents would pay for both these solutions anyway through increased water costs. Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) would pass these costs on to local water suppliers.

Although cited for violations of the Clean Water Act last May, the Sanitation Districts are still trying to prove that there is no problem rather than fixing the problem.

Last year they made an agreement with CLWA (costing taxpayers some $150,000) to study the salt levels in state water, apparently in an effort to show that these levels are going down. They should have done their homework first.  The Department of Water Resources has studied this issue for many years, finding little variation in salt level over a thirty year period. That was without calculating the effect of reduced snowpack in the Sierras from climate change.

I believe it is time to stop denying the problem and build a plant that will reduce salty releases to the river from the Sanitation plants. It is also time to stop letting developers off the hook by asking taxpayers to pick up their tab.

The Sanitation District has been aware of this problem for decades.  The cost of needed improvements to remove salts should have been added to connection fees for new development.  After all, it is this development that requires additional state water supply.

Instead, our Sanitation Board members, Marsha McClean and Laurene Weste voted to lower these fees.

Now, Newhall Ranch will be allowed to treat water from its first 6000 units in the Valencia plant. However, the Regional Water Qua;ity Board, in response to comments from SCOPE, required Newhall to meet the 100mgl limit, and to pay for the improvements to meet that requirement. What about requiring other new developments to meet this requirement as well?

You can read our complete comments on the Sanitation District’s Salt Removal Plan Environmental Impact Report by opening the PDF below.

SCOPE EIR CommentslSan Plant